Maryland voters on Nov. 6 narrowly approved a referendum allowing same-sex couples in the state to marry, and handily approved another that allows undocumented college students in Maryland to pay discounted in-state tuition at the state's institutions of higher learning.

The Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy arm of the bishops whose dioceses include the state of Maryland, called both measures "of critical interest to Catholics" and had urged the state's Catholics to vote against redefining marriage and to vote for the tuition measure.

"While, gratefully, Marylanders did vote to uphold the DREAM Act, it is of grave concern to us that the law redefining marriage narrowly passed," said a statement from the MCC. "The Catholic Church in Maryland had advocated for the DREAM Act and against redefining marriage because we believe these positions reflect what's best for children, young people, and the future of our state."

By a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, Maryland became the first state in the nation to uphold by referendum a state law allowing same-sex marriage. In the past 14 years, voters in 32 other states have rejected laws allowing such marriages. (Also on Nov. 6, Maine voters became the first in the nation to approve same-sex marriage by ballot initiative rather than voting on a state law referendum.)

The victory for same-sex marriage in Maryland is a blow to a diverse coalition of the state's religious leaders that worked over the past nine months to encourage voters to protect the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

The effort against the initiative was led by the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which includes the MCC, the Maryland Family Alliance, the National Organization for Marriage, and a host of Maryland churches, organizations, and citizens.

"Regrettably, Marylanders decided by the narrowest of margins not to repeal the law that redefines marriage," the MCC said in its statement. "The ballot language they encountered masked the fact that this law does not simply assign civil benefits to gay and lesbian couples, but drastically dismantles in our state law the fundamental family unit of mother, father and child."

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, who serves as chairman of the MCC's Board of Governors, lamented the passage of same-sex marriage in Maryland and told the Catholic Review, the newspaper of his archdiocese, that "I think the vote will prove not to have been good for the common good of our state."

He promised that "we will continue to witness to the values of marriage as understood as the union of one man and one woman, as the most sound, secure and loving way to bring children into the world."

The MCC, noting that the marriage referendum "promised that this law would protect religious institutions and individuals who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman," said it will "remain vigilant in ensuring that those promises are upheld."

Meanwhile, the law allowing undocumented college students in Maryland to pay discounted in-state tuition at the state's institutions of higher learning was approved by almost 59 percent of Maryland voters.

The MCC, in its statement, said the measure was approved because "Marylanders understood the fairness of allowing immigrant students who pay taxes, work hard, and graduate from our high schools to pay the same in-state tuition rate as their other classmates."

The law allows undocumented college and university students to pay in-state tuition rates if they spent three years in a Maryland high school, graduated from a Maryland high school, attend two years of community college, and if they or their parents have paid state income taxes during those high school years and continue to pay state taxes while in college.

"It is to everyone's benefit that these successful, intelligent and passionate young people will be able to continue their education and give back to this state," the MCC statement said. "As we move forward, the Catholic Church will continue to advocate for equitable educational opportunities for all, and for a just and humane solution to our country's broken immigration system."

The measure was approved last year by the Maryland State Legislature, but was forced to referendum.

The MCC said in its statement that it was "deeply grateful" to those across the state who volunteered "to promote the truth about human dignity and marriage in a respectful and compassionate manner. May our unity on these issues continue to inspire our efforts to work together to achieve the common good for all of Maryland."