A campaign to legalize gay marriage in Maine has gathered more than 25,000 signatures in only 3 weeks.

Equality Maine, the state's largest gay rights group, announced on Thursday that it was nearly one third of the way toward its goal. To qualify for the 2012 ballot, supporters need to collect the signatures of 57,277 registered voters. However, in order to ensure that there are sufficient valid signatures, the group plans to gather nearly 75,000 signatures.

In 2009, gay marriage foes narrowly (53%) repealed a gay marriage law approved by lawmakers with a “people's veto” at the ballot box.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

Proponents in Maine acted 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, which begins in January.