Opposition – and counter proposals – to a newly announced gay marriage bill in Maine is quickly forming.

Senator Dennis S. Damon's (Democrat) gay marriage bill extends the responsibilities and benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples and affirms a religious institution's right to decide who to marry. The law would also recognize legal gay marriages performed in other states. Such states include fellow New England states Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“Today I have submitted an act to end discrimination in civil marriage and to affirm religious freedom,” Damon said at a Tuesday press conference to announce the bill.

Several Republicans quickly announced their opposition to the bill.

The Republican Project, a grassroots group that is committed to returning the Republican party “to its traditional core values and proven conservative governance policies,” announced on Friday it would fight for defeat of the gay marriage bill.

“The Maine state Republican Party platform is quite clear on this issue,” said Maine Republican Project CEO Dean Scontras, who lost his Republican primary bid for a Congressional seat last year. “So are the tenets of the Republican Project. Therefore, we will work at a grassroots level, through our electronic medium and within our membership, to work against Senator Damon's effort.”

Also opposing the measure is Rep. Josh Tardy, the House Republican leader in Maine, who has announced he will introduce legislation this session that would restrict marriage to a heterosexual union by making it a constitutional amendment.

But Republican Representative Les Fossel is attempting a different approach: He is sponsoring a bill that expands the state's domestic partner registry.

Maine lawmakers passed a bill in 2004 to create a domestic partnership registry for both gay and straight couples, putting the state in the category of states that offer some legal protections to gay and lesbian couples.

That registry grants few guaranteed protections beyond estate planning, but Fossel says his bill would expand the language of the law to grant gay and lesbian couples the same legal rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples.

“Currently, there are legal and technical differences that create disadvantages for many Maine families,” Fossel said. “My bill aims to remove these differences from Maine law.”

Fossel said Damon's gay marriage bill is too emotionally charged, saying he would prefer to find “a middle ground.”

“We don't need a hot, divisive debate with siege guns,” he said. “Democracy is all about finding a middle ground. This bill might not be perfect for everyone, but it is the only bill with a chance of succeeding without immediately triggering a referendum to repeal.”

Scontras suggested his opposition to the gay marriage bill was based on its distraction from solving economic problems.

“Among our growing membership, it seems a bit of a concern that Senator Damon chose to introduce this legislation when Maine faces one of the worst economic climates in some time,” he said in a statement. “This will simply absorb valuable legislative cycles that should be dedicated toward repairing the economic situation of so many Mainers.”

Gay activists are pushing a six state strategy to win gay marriage for the entire New England region. Legislation to provide for gay marriage is being introduced this year in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island. Gay and lesbian couples can marry in Massachusetts and Connecticut.