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Gay marriage advocates launch petition, meetings

Gay marriage advocates launch petition, meetings

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ANNAPOLIS — A week after celebrating the signing of legislation to legalize gay marriage, supporters of same-sex unions are working to fend off an attempt to overturn the law.

Marylanders for Marriage Equality, a coalition of organizations that back unions for same-sex couples, will host a series of community meetings on their plan to uphold the law should it be petitioned to the November ballot.

Members of the group, who rejoiced as Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill last week, have also launched their own petition to gather support for upholding the gay marriage law. People who sign it will be pledging their support for same-sex marriage, although the petition will not carry any legal weight, organization officials said.

It will be used to contrast efforts by referendum advocates who have vowed to turn in at least double the nearly 56,000 valid voter signatures required to put the measure on the ballot.

Fred Mason, president of the Maryland and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, one of the labor groups that supported the marriage law, said the petition will encourage voters to back it.

“We’ve seen this social progression in the country in a variety of ways,” Mason said. “We’ve seen that progression in this country and in the state of Maryland and we certainly believe we will prevail in the referendum.”

If the law survives a referendum, gay couples will be able to marry in Maryland starting in January 2013.

Delegate Neil Parrott, R-Washington, is one of the leaders of the referendum petition drive. He said he is confident the advocates’ efforts to stir public discussion on gay marriage will swing in the favor of the referendum effort. Referendum advocates have yet to begin collecting signatures, but Parrott said they expect to launch the petition drive soon.

“The more people talk about the marriage issue in Maryland, the more people are going to want to maintain the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman,” Parrott said. “I think that’s a healthy discussion and I’m glad that’s going on.”

Last year, Parrott led a successful petition drive on another bill by using a website to download information from state voter rolls, ensuring that signers’ names and addresses matched the information given when they registered to vote, a requirement to validate signatures in Maryland.

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