A campaign to legalize gay marriage in Maine with a citizen's initiative is off to a strong start, the AP reported.

In 2009, gay marriage foes narrowly (53%) repealed a law approved by lawmakers with a “people's veto” at the ballot box.

Now, backers hope to make Maine the first state to legalize the institution through the same democratic process.

The state's largest gay rights group EqualityMaine gathered more than 5,000 signatures on Saturday, the first official day of petition-gathering. To qualify for the 2012 ballot, supporters need to collect the signatures of 57,277 registered voters.

The proposed text of the question 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?”

The move comes after New York became the sixth state to legalize such unions in July and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley pledged to back a gay marriage bill during next year's legislative session.