AUGUSTA, Maine -- Gay rights activists in Maine, the only New England state that doesn't allow gay marriage or civil unions, said Thursday that they are forging ahead with plans to put the marriage question up to a second statewide vote.
EqualityMaine, the Maine Civil Liberties Union and the Maine Women's Lobby have collected more than 100,000 signatures - far more than needed to seek the referendum - made their announcement Thursday at the State House in Augusta.
The Legislature previously approved gay marriage, but it was rejected by a 2009 statewide vote, 53 percent to 47 percent. If Mainers approve gay marriage, the state would be the first to do so by a popular vote.
The new petition drive kicked off in August, and by November gay marriage supporters had collected more than 100,000 signatures, but supporters wanted to wait to make sure the timing was right before deciding whether to deliver those petitions to the secretary of state.
To get gay marriage on the 2012 ballot, organizers needed to collect at least 57,277 voters' signatures by Jan. 30. If the signatures are certified, the proposal first goes to the Republican-controlled Legislature for an up or down vote.
The Christian Civic League of Maine proclaimed that "unnatural marriage" would curtail religious freedoms that the Founding Fathers recognized.
"Removing Judeo-Christian values from our legal system brings America closer to becoming a secular society like Europe is becoming and China already is," Carroll Conley Jr., the Christian Civic League's executive director, said Wednesday in a statement.
In New England, gay marriage is allowed in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont, and civil unions for same-sex couples are allowed in Rhode Island. Other states that allow gay marriage are New York and Iowa, along with Washington, D.C.
In the six states where gay-marriage is allowed, the laws all came through either court orders or legislative votes, not through a statewide popular vote.
Elsewhere, bills to legalize same-sex marriage have good chances of passage this year in legislatures in Maryland, New Jersey and Washington. Proposed amendments for constitutional bans on gay marriage will be on the ballots in North Carolina on May 8 and in Minnesota on Nov. 6.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.