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Gay-marriage showdowns likely in North Carolina, Minnesota, Maryland, Maine and Washington state

BY DAVID CRARY, AP NATIONAL WRITER

Foes and supporters of same-sex marriage are gearing up for five costly and bruising statewide showdowns in the coming months on an issue that evenly divides Americans.

It's an election year subplot sure to stir up heated emotions - even beyond the confines of North Carolina, Minnesota, Maryland, Maine and Washington state. National advocacy groups will be deeply engaged, and advertising is likely to surface from each side that outrages the other.

"It's crunch time," said Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, the paramount fundraiser for opponents of gay marriage. "We view it as a massive opportunity for a national referendum."

Brown predicts same-sex marriage will be rebuffed in all five states, while gay-marriage supporters hope they can score at least a few victories and break a long losing streak. Since 1998, 31 states have had ballot measures related to same-sex marriage, and in every state the opponents ended up prevailing.

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