Gay-rights activists pledged Thursday to reclaim Maine as a gay-marriage state by asking voters to vote in November for a ballot measure legalizing same-sex nuptials.
"The number of signatures we gathered and the thoughtful conversations we've been having with voters tell us that Mainers are eager to speak on this question again," said Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine.
"Our polling shows a 54 percent majority of support for same-sex marriage in Maine," she added. "Many Mainers have changed their minds and want a chance to bring equality and fairness to our state."
In 2009, Maine political leaders enacted a gay-marriage law, but traditional-values groups acted quickly to put the law on the November ballot, and voters vetoed the law by a 53 percent to 47 percent vote.
Equality Maine said Thursday that backers had delivered more than 105,000 signatures - almost twice the number needed - to state officials to place a citizens' initiative on the November ballot.
It is called "An Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom." The proposed ballot question asks, "Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, and that protects religious freedom by ensuring that no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?"
"I grew up in Maine and always considered myself a conservative guy, but I have taken a journey toward supporting marriage for gays and lesbians," said Pastor Michael Gray, an original signer of the ballot initiative and leader of the Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, the Maine Women's Lobby, Engage Maine and Freedom to Marry also support the measure.
Traditional-values groups said they will again defend man-woman marriage.
"Gay advocates are fooling themselves when they say things have changed," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which helped defeat the 2009 law.
"Our reaction, in a single word, is disappointment," said Brian Souchet, director of the Office for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine. "We just fought this in 2009, very contentious and very divisive battle, and we are kind of frustrated that we have to go through the whole process all over again."
"We believe that society needs to strengthen and protect marriage, and not redefine it or undermine it. And we are absolutely committed, as we take a lead role in this, to do that with dignity and respect," said Carroll Conley Jr., executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine.
The gay-marriage measure first goes to lawmakers, but they are not expected to block or change the measure, added Mr. Conley. "They're going to allow the people to have their voice, one way or the other."
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