By DAVID SHARP, Associated Press
LEWISTON, Maine -- 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.
The announcement was made in Lewistown, Maine's second-largest city, which rejected gay marriage in 2009. Smith said it is one of the communities that gay marriage supporters need to win to succeed at the ballot box in 2012.
"We've been having conversations with Mainers for the last year and a half, and what we know is that Mainers are changing their minds on this issue," Smith said. "We began working for marriage equality in 2009. We want to finish that job."
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.
Michelle Mondor, a Roman Catholic mother from Biddford, described how she came to accept that her son's committed relationship with a partner of more than 11 years is just as strong as her own relationship with her husband.
She wants to see a marriage for them, as well as their adopted 11-year-pld son.
"He needs the protection and stability of knowing his two dads are married, and I pray that the people of Maine make that a reality so our entire family can join them in celebrating their love at their wedding."
Glenn Adams in Augusta, Maine, contributed to this report.