AUGUSTA — Gay-marriage advocates turned in more than enough signatures to move ahead with a citizen initiative that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry in Maine, the secretary of state’s office ruled Thursday.

More than 85,000 signatures were declared valid. The groups needed only 57,277 signatures for their bill to get to the Legislature.

The decision means lawmakers will now be presented with a citizen initiative to allow gay marriage in Maine. Currently, seven states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriages.

While lawmakers have the option of passing the bill as proposed, most likely it will be sent to voters in November.

Advocates, who lost at the ballot box in 2009 by a 53-47 percent vote, believe enough Mainers have changed their minds on the issue that they will win this time around.

“The story of the 2012 campaign is not going to be gay folk coming out and supporting this, it’s going to be heterosexuals like myself coming out in support of gay marriage,” said the Rev. Michael Gray of Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church. “We’re now realizing how important it is for us to speak up.”

Brian Souchet, the director of the Office for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said he fully expected the advocates would get the necessary signatures. But, he said they will have a harder time convincing the public it should pass.

“This is a group that’s attempting to redefine marriage,” he said. “We don’t see how a majority of Maine voters are going to go for that.”

The coalition working to pass a gay-marriage law includes EqualityMaine, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, the Maine Women’s Lobby, The Religious Coalition Against Discrimination and 15 other groups.

Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, said she hopes the Legislature listens to the more than 100,000 people who signed their petition in support of a citizen initiative.

“Our hope is that they will abide by the wishes of the people, which is to vote in November,” she said.

Bob Emrich, who is organizing a coalition of opponents that will include the Christian Civic League of Maine, Concerned Women for America and the National Organization for Marriage, said he’s cautiously optimistic that voters haven’t changed their minds on the issue.

“We’re much better prepared than we were before,” he said. “I don’t know anyone other than EqualityMaine folks who think things have changed.”

 

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]

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