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This week in the state of Maine, opponents of gay marriage cleared a threshold that put them in the middle of the national debate. They have gathered enough valid signatures to place a referendum on November's ballot. Voters will have a chance to repeal Maine's same-sex marriage law.

From Maine Public Radio, Susan Sharon reports.

SUSAN SHARON: The bill to allow same-sex marriage was approved by the Maine Legislature and signed by the governor in May. But the victory for gay and lesbian couples hoping to get married was bittersweet.

(Soundbite of demonstrators clapping and chanting)

SHARON: Before the law could take effect, many found themselves involved in a political campaign to protect a right they had yet to exercise. That's because the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, along with national groups, had mobilized an effort to repeal same-sex marriage.

Unidentified Man: Who do we have on the line?

Unidentified Woman: (Unintelligible).

Unidentified Man: We're going to get started here in just a minute.

SHARON: Working out of an unmarked office in a small business plaza, they call their coalition Stand for Marriage Maine. As of mid-July, they had raised more than twice as much money as same-sex marriage supporters, about $350,000, a fraction of what each side says will be necessary to prevail. But nearly all of the money, 99 percent, came from a handful of groups, including the National Organization for Marriage, the Portland diocese and the Maine chapter of Focus on the Family.

Mr. MARC MUTTY (Executive Chairman, Stand for Marriage Maine): It isn't about civil rights. It isn't about anything other than the definition of marriage, what marriage is going to mean to us and what it's going - how it's going to be defined.

SHARON: Marc Mutty is the executive chairman of Stand for Marriage Maine, which believes legalizing same-sex marriage will lead to a new curriculum in the schools.

Mr. MUTTY: And many certainly feel uncomfortable about that, and the fact that children as young as 7 or 8-year-old are going to be taught about gay sex in some detail.

Mr. JIM BISHOP (Volunteer, Vote No On 1/Protect Maine Equality): This is one of these great lines we get. That's the kind of stuff that I find really offensive.

SHARON: Jim Bishop is a supporter and volunteer of the No On 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign.

Mr. BISHOP: Saying that we're going to teach about gay marriage and gay lifestyle in the schools and try to convert. This is just absurd. I'm sorry, that is so far out of what we're talking about.

SHARON: If and when same-sex marriage becomes legal in Maine, Bishop is hoping to marry his partner of 33 years, Stephen Ryan.

Mr. STEPHEN RYAN: It's really about civil rights, about having the same things that every other loving couple has. I have full confidence that the people in Maine will do the right thing and honor civil rights for all Mainers.

SHARON: Protect Maine Equality has gotten more than 80,000 Maine voters to pledge to support their cause. But around the country, opponents of gay marriage generally appear to outnumber supporters at the ballot box. Since 2004, more than two dozen states have passed referenda to prohibit same-sex marriage, including California, where consultant and strategist Frank Schubert helped opponents claim victory last fall. Schubert has come to Maine to attempt the same thing.

Mr. FRANK SCHUBERT (Spokesperson, Protect Marriage): The reality is that this is a national campaign. People around the country and internationally are looking at what's going to happen in Maine. And both sides are doing what they can to marshal support wherever they can find support. It will be a pitched battle.

SHARON: Unlike in California, Schubert says the Mormon Church is not involved in Maine's campaign. And unlike in California, both sides are hoping for a more civil debate in a battle that shows no signs of letting up even after November 3rd.

For NPR News, I'm Susan Sharon in Lewiston, Maine.

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