A coalition of Maine gay rights groups announced on Thursday that they had secured enough petition signatures to force a referendum on legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.
Spokespeople for EqualityMaine, American Civil Liberties Unions of Maine and the Maine Women's Lobby said they had collected over 105,000 signatures of people who supported same-sex marriage – more than twice the amount of signatures needed to force a referendum.
Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, said times have changed and Maine is poised to become the final state in New England to recognize gay marriage.
"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," Smith said at the announcement. "Our polling shows a 54 percent majority of support for same-sex marriage in Maine. Many Mainers have changed their minds and want a chance to bring equality and fairness to our state."
Maine voters were asked in 2009 to vote on same-sex marriage but the movement was defeated with a 53 to 47 percent vote.
Recent independent polls corroborate Smith's claim, including one by Public Policy Polling in November that found 51 percent of Mainers in favor of same-sex marriage as compared to 42 percent opposed.
The referendum, currently titled "An Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom," will appear as a Citizen's Initiative on the fall ballot. Maine's Secretary of State will review the signatures and the wording of the referendum before authorizing its inclusion.
As proposed, the referendum 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?"
The language is similar to proposed bills in Washington and New Jersey, where same-sex marriage could appear as a referendum question once lawmakers and advocacy groups finish tussling.
Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine (CCL), says same-sex marriage poses a threat to the very fabric of American morality.
"This is a seminal issue in our culture and therefore we strongly make the case for natural marriage," Conley told The Christian Post.
Conley believes polls indicating that Mainers are in favor of same-sex marriage are largely biased and is confident that voters will reject the referendum.
"I think what happens, and I know this sounds cliché, the most important poll is the vote and this has occurred 31 times across the country and all 31 times, people across the U.S. believe in natural marriage," Conley said. "I think a lot of times, when [pollsters] go up and talk to them or come to their house and ask if they believe in equality, they may be more intimidated than when they get behind the curtain of a voting booth."
In a letter signed by dozens of evangelical leaders to other U.S. religious organizations, CCL outlined their view on the ways in which same-sex marriage would affect society.
"(We) believe the most urgent peril is this: forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations-throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies-to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalent of marital sexual conduct," the letter read.
The National Organization for Marriage has spent over $2 million fighting same-sex marriage in the state, and said it would continue to battle same-sex marriage supporters.
"NOM intends to vigorously fight this attempt by same-sex marriage advocates to impose gay marriage in Maine," said Brian Brown, NOM's president, in a statement. "Maine voters rejected gay marriage barely more than two years ago. What part of 'no' don't gay marriage advocates understand?"
Conley said he expects to be outspent "three or four to one" by same-sex marriage advocates. He added that proponents of traditional marriage should fervently work to maintain the status quo and do so "with the ministry of Christ."
"It's great to have the resources," Conley said. "But we will first of all make the case that it's okay to support traditional marriage, (and) we're going to do it respectfully and compassionately … You don't have to be ashamed of this position."
Same-sex marriage is currently legal in six states and Washington D.C.