AUGUSTA – Conservative religious groups have succeeded in gathering enough valid signatures to force a people’s veto vote on Maine’s new gay rights law.

The referendum asking voters if they want to take away civil rights for gays will be on the Nov. 8 ballot because sufficient signatures were validated, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Thursday.

The referendum question will read: “Do you want to reject the new law that would protect people from discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations and credit based on their sexual orientation?”

The law was passed by state legislators and signed by Gov. John Baldacci earlier this year. To bring the challenge before voters, the signatures of 50,519 registered Maine voters were needed. That number represents 10 percent of the total votes in the last gubernatorial election. Dunlap announced that 56,650 signatures were accepted, 6,000 more than needed. Another 6,826 signatures were rejected.

The signatures were gathered by three groups: the Maine Grassroots Coalition led by conservative Catholic Paul Madore of Lewiston; the Christian Civic League led by Michael Heath; and the Coalition for Marriage led by Sandy Williams.

Madore said Thursday that he was delighted the petition signatures have been cleared. “It’s just reassuring that the system is working,” he said. Gathering all the signatures in less than three months “involved a tremendous effort. Everybody involved deserves a very heartfelt thanks,” Madore said.

He expects his campaign to gear up after Labor Day. “We don’t have unlimited resources that our opponents have. It’s going to be a neighbor-to-neighbor campaign.”

Jesse Connolly of Maine Won’t Discriminate said it was not surprising that the other side gathered the signatures. His side is prepared.

Since December, Maine Won’t Discriminate has been planning for a campaign, raising money, going door to door and recruiting volunteers. “We want to make sure this anti-discrimination bill that adds sexual orientation to the Maine Human Rights code will be upheld,” he said.

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