AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Secretary of State’s Office on Thursday confirmed that enough signatures have been verified to allow voters in November to decide whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in Maine.
“After a thorough review, we have determined that 85,216 signatures on the petition are valid,” Secretary of State Charlies Summers said in a press release. “I commend the organizers of this effort for their success in meeting the required threshold. I also want to thank my staff in the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions for their hard work in ensuring that the integrity of the process was preserved and the statutory deadline for the determination was met.”
Election officials notified referendum proponents of Summer’s finding on Thursday afternoon, according to the press release. Proponents were required to gather at least 57,277 valid signatures, or 10 percent of the total number of people who cast ballots for governor in the last gubernatorial election.
Advocates turned in petitions from 453 towns and cities on Jan. 26. Of the 96,137 signatures submitted, 10,921 were determined to be invalid, Summers said in the press release. Petitioners had until Jan. 30 to submit the signatures, according to provisions of the Maine Constitution. The Secretary of State’s Office had 30 days from Jan. 26 to validate the signatures and certify the petitions.
“Same-sex couples want to marry for the same reasons other couples want to marry: because they love each other and want to spend their lives together,” Betsy Smith, executive director of EqualityMaine, which led to effort to gather the signatures, said Thursday. “During the last two years, our coalition has had thousands of face-to-face conversations about marriage with Mainers who have changed their minds about this issue. There’s no question that momentum is growing for same-sex marriage in Maine.”
Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, disagreed that Mainers are ready to redefine marriage.
“I believe society should be protecting and strengthening marriage, not undermining it; however, we stand ready to defend marriage as that unique relationship between one man and one woman,” he said in an email response for comment. “I believe Maine voters will not be intimidated to change their minds and this November’s vote will reaffirm the previous 31 elections around our country that have insisted that marriage not be redefined.”
The Legislature previously approved same-sex marriage, but it was rejected by a 2009 statewide vote, 53 percent to 47 percent. If Mainers approve same-sex marriage later this year, they would be the first in the United States to do so by popular vote.
At a Jan. 26 press conference announcing that the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage would go forward, Smith said polling indicates 54 percent of Maine residents now support allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Bishop Richard Malone, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, expressed disappointment that the matter will be on the ballot.
“It is unfortunate that citizens will be subjected to this divisive issue again, especially considering other challenges before us such as homelessness, hunger and societal care for all vulnerable people,” Malone said in a statement. “The Church will remain firm in her constant teaching that marriage is exclusively the union of one woman and one man — a nearly universally accepted truth until very recently. Truth not based first on religious principles, but on natural law knowable by human reason alone.”
Brian Souchet, director of the diocese’s Office for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, said he was not surprised same-sex marriage supporters were able to gather enough signatures to put the question on the ballot.
“The Catholic Church for its part will continue to promote marriage as an institution that unites men and women with each other and any children born of their union, a vision of marriage that this referendum seeks to eliminate,” Souchet said Thursday in an email. “We would advise people to read the proposed legislation very closely before they vote on it.”
Before voters weigh in, the proposal first goes to the Republican-controlled Legislature for an up-or-down vote. If the Legislature approves the proposal and the governor signs it, then same-sex marriage would be legalized. If the Legislature doesn’t approve it or the governor doesn’t sign a bill, as expected, the question goes to voters.
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 permit same-sex marriage are New York, Washington and Iowa, along with Washington, D.C. The Maryland legislature voted Thursday to allow same-sex marriage.
In the states where same-sex marriage is allowed, the laws all came through either court orders or legislative votes, not through a statewide popular vote.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.