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Maine voters likely to reconsider marriage equality this year

Maine voters likely to reconsider marriage equality this year

AUGUSTA, Maine — Marriage equality is headed back to the ballot for a second time in Maine, as gay rights advocates on Thursday submitted petitions signed by 105,000 voters, far more than the 57,277 needed to force a referendum in November.

The announcement comes about two years after the Legislature approved same-sex marriage, only to see the measure overturned in a referendum vote.

But since the last vote in 2009, proponents of same-sex marriage — led by EqualityMaine, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Maine Women’s Lobby and their supporters — said Mainers have had a change of heart.

“The number of signatures we gathered, the liveliness and thougtfulness of the conversations we’ve had with Maine voters, and polling that shows a majority of support for marriage equality in Maine has shown us that Mainers are eager to speak on this issue again,” said Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine.

A coalition led by Equality Maine launched a petition drive in August for a ballot initiative that would ask Mainers the following question on the November 2012 ballot:

“Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?”

“The law to be voted on is called an Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom,” Smith said, and states that no clergy member would have to perform same-sex marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.

The group needed to collect at least 57,277 voters’ signatures by Jan. 30, 2012 to qualify to put the measure on the 2012 ballot. The petitions must now be certified by election officials.

Maine is currently the only state in New England that doesn’t allow either gay marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples.

A bill to allow same-sex marriages in Maine was signed into law on May 6, 2009, by the-Gov. John Baldacci following approval by state lawmakers, but was overturned in a ballot referendum on November 3, 2009 after anti-gay opposition groups won that vote by 52.8 percent.

Two recent polls indicate that 53 percent of Mainers now favor same-sex marriage.

If same-sex marriage passes at the polls, Maine could become the first state to approve gay marriage through a popular vote.

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