Gay marriage proponents will attempt to legalize the institution in Maine with a citizen's initiative.

In 2009, foes narrowly (53%) repealed a gay marriage law approved by lawmakers with a “people's veto” at the the ballot box.

Now, backers hope to make Maine the first state to legalize the institution with a vote of the people.

At a press conference held Thursday on the steps of Lewiston City Hall, gay rights group Equality Maine and legal group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) announced it would file paperwork with election officials to start the process of gathering 57,000 signatures to put the issue on next fall's ballot.

“The process of winning the freedom to marry begins today,” Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, told the crowd. “There is much we must do before we can win the freedom to marry in Maine. Specifically, we must gather enough signatures to get on the ballot. We must continue changing hearts and minds about why marriage matters.”

“We know our opponents will come at us hard, like they did in 2009. They will raise a lot of money. And they will use that money to mislead, confuse and distract voters from the real subject, as they have admitted that they did in 2009.”

The proposed text of the question, which will be submitted by Pastor Michael Gray of the Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church, reads: “Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?”

“We believe there's strong support for marriage in Maine,” GLAD's Matt McTighe said. “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.”

The new effort comes a day after the Rhode Island Legislature approved a civil unions bill and New Jersey proponents filed a new legal challenge to marry, and less than a week after New York became the sixth – and most populous – state to legalize gay marriage.