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Election officials announced Wednesday that gay marriage foes surpassed the threshold of signatures necessary to put the state law on the November ballot, setting the stage for a furious, two-month campaign that'll determine whether the number of states allowing same-sex nuptials shrinks to five.
Maine's gay marriage law was supposed to go into effect on Sept. 12, but it was put on hold while the secretary of state's office verified the number of signatures. With the signatures validated, Gov. John Baldacci on Wednesday signed a formal proclamation putting the gay marriage law to a statewide vote Nov. 3.
"I fully support this legislation and believe it guarantees that all Maine citizens are treated equally under our state's civil marriage laws," Baldacci said. "But I also have a constitutional obligation to set the date for the election once the secretary of state has certified that enough signatures have been submitted."
The announcement was anticipated.
Gay marriage opponents needed the signatures of at least 55,087 registered voters for the so-called People's Veto, and they turned in nearly 100,000 signatures. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said officials stopped counting once they found that 60,391 of the submitted signatures were valid.
Election officials were facing a deadline of Sept. 4 - 60 days before the election - to certify the signatures. Otherwise, the vote would've had to wait until June.
Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for NO on 1/Protect Maine Equality, said it's no surprise that so many signatures were collected because professional signature gatherers were used. "Theirs is a cynical, pay-for-every signature approach that doesn't reflect the homegrown values of our state," he said in a statement.
The Rev. Bob Emrich, who supports the repeal of the gay marriage law, brushed aside the criticism.
"The facts are that tens of thousands of Maine citizens signed the petition," said Emrich, the minister at Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church in Plymouth. "Now we'll be on the ballot and we'll let the people of Maine make the decision."
Maine became the fifth state to allow gay marriage when Baldacci signed the bill on May 6, and New Hampshire became the sixth when Gov. John Lynch signed a bill less than a month later. New Hampshire's law goes into effect Jan. 1. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Iowa also allow same-sex couples to marry.
The gay marriage vote in Maine is one of five referendums on the November ballot.
Other proposals seek to reduce automobile excise taxes, mandate voter approval for state and local tax and spending increases over certain limits, repeal the state's school district consolidation law and make changes to the state's medical marijuana law.
This program aired on September 2, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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