ELECTION ’09 – BALLOT MEASURES…. It wasn’t just gubernatorial and congressional races yesterday; voters also decided some key policy matters, most notably on gay civil rights.

In May, Maine became the fifth state to approve marriage equality, and only the second state to approve gay marriage through the legislative process. Yesterday, sadly, a narrow majority of Maine voters turned back the clock.

In a stinging setback for the national gay-rights movement, Maine voters narrowly decided to repeal the state’s new law allowing same-sex marriage.

With 87 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning, 53 percent of voters had approved the repeal, ending an expensive and emotional fight that was closely watched around the country as a referendum on the national gay-marriage movement. Polls had suggested a much closer race.

With the repeal, Maine became the 31st state to reject same-sex marriage at the ballot box. Five other states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont — have legalized same-sex marriage, but only through court rulings and legislative action.

The Maine vote was particularly discouraging for gay-rights groups because it took place in New England, the region that has been the most open to same-sex marriage, and because opponents of the repeal had far outspent backers.

The arc of history may be long, and it may bend towards justice, but sometimes that arc isn’t nearly as curved as it should be.

Adding insult to injury, New Jersey was poised to join the states approving marriage equality, but with Chris Christie’s (R) victory yesterday, progress will quickly come to a halt.

In more encouraging news, voters in Washington state approved a domestic-partnership measure that grants gay couples all the rights of married couples at the state level. A anti-discrimination measure in Kalamazoo, Michigan, was also approved by voters.

But the setback in Maine is what hurts. The state’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese was very active in opposing the civil rights measure, as was the right-wing National Organization for Marriage.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.