A campaign to legalize gay marriage in Maine has gathered more than 40,000 signatures in less than 6 weeks.

Equality Maine, the state's largest gay rights group, announced on Wednesday that it was more than half 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.

“The fact that we have gathered more than 40,000 signatures in less than six weeks is nothing short of remarkable,” the group said in an email to supporters. “Simply put, we could not have reached this incredible milestone so quickly without the help of dedicated supporters all over the country like you.”

In 2009, gay marriage foes narrowly (53%) repealed a gay marriage law approved by lawmakers with a “people's veto” at the ballot box, known as Question 1. 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.