Same-Sex Marriage Supporters Plan Referendum in Maine

June 30, 2011 - 11:04 AM

Lewiston, Maine (AP) - Gay marriage supporters in Maine began laying the groundwork Thursday for another referendum on the issue, one day after Rhode Island lawmakers approved civil unions for gay couples.

Gay marriage supporters say many have changed their minds since state voters overturned a same-sex marriage law in 2009. They said Thursday they're filing paperwork with election officials to start the process of gathering 57,000 signatures to put the matter on the November 2012 ballot.

Matt McTighe from Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders says polls show 53 percent of Mainers now support gay marriage. In 2009, gay marriage was rejected by the same margin.

"We believe there's strong support for marriage in Maine. We believe that all families deserve the right to marry. The longer we wait, the longer we delay this right of loving and committed couples to marry," McTighe said Thursday.

Gay marriage supporters hope to build on momentum in Rhode Island and in New York, which earlier this month became the sixth state to allow gay marriage.

But gay marriage supporters say the Maine effort has been under way for some time.

Betsy Smith of EqualityMaine said Maine activists are focused on having 40,000 conversations with voters to bring them over to their side.

"We are going voter by voter," said Smith, adding that 15,000 of those conversations have been held, in targeted areas of the state.

McTighe said gay marriage supporters will decide after gathering signatures and completing one-on-one conversations whether to go to the ballot.

Joining EqualityMaine and GLAD at a news conference Thursday were Lewiston Mayor Laurent F. Gilbert and the Rev. Michael Gray, a United Methodist pastor in Old Orchard Beach.

"As a pastor whose faith has been the guiding force throughout my adult life, I had a very traditional view of what marriage meant. But over time, as I met more gay and lesbian couples, including some who are active in my parish, I came to learn that gay people are no different from me," Gray said.

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Glenn Adams in Augusta, Maine, contributed to this report.