AUGUSTA – Organizers of an effort to make same-sex marriage legal in Maine said Wednesday that the language for the citizens initiative they propose has been approved by the secretary of state.

This week’s approval allows supporters of gay marriage to begin printing petitions and gathering signatures to reach their goal of putting the issue before Mainers on the November 2012 ballot.

They need at least 57,277 signatures from registered Maine voters, and will have until January to turn in the petitions to Secretary of State Charlie Summers.

“We’re excited for the signature-gathering phase of this campaign to start,” Rita Clifford of Scarborough, who was involved in a 2009 effort to legalize gay marriage, said in a news release. The door-to-door petition drive will begin this weekend, according to the release.

Passage of the initiative would allow gay and lesbian couples to get marriage licenses in Maine, but would not require churches to perform any marriage that conflicts with its teachings.

The proposal would first go to the Legislature, which would have an option to pass it. Rejection by the Legislature would put the measure on the statewide ballot.

Under the approved language, voters would be asked: “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?”

Also Wednesday, proponents of same-sex marriage announced the creation of their new political action committee, Dirigo Family PAC, which will raise and distribute money for their campaign.

Maine lawmakers passed a gay-marriage law in May 2009, but it was repealed by voters in a citizens initiative in November of that year, 53 percent to 47 percent.

Leaders of the 2009 people’s veto effort have pledged to campaign against the latest attempt to legalize gay marriage in Maine.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]