PORTLAND — An anti-gay activist said Wednesday he’s ready “to shout to the world that we’re on the side of human dignity” and begin a petition drive for voter signatures in Maine in support of an initiative to remove references to sexual orientation from the state’s Human Rights Act.

The Secretary of State’s Office said

‘s petitions have been finalized and the state was waiting for him Wednesday to pick them up. Heath, a longtime opponent of gay rights and former head of the Christian Civic League of Maine, has 18 months to collect the signatures of about 61,000 registered voters to put the measure on the November 2017 ballot.

Heath’s proposal would strike language from the Human Rights Act that is more than 10 years old. The language extends state protections that “prevent discrimination in employment, housing or access to public accommodations” regardless of sexual orientation and it survived a 2005 referendum in which Heath and others wanted to remove it.

The Augusta preacher and tech consultant said he was inspired to take another run at the anti-discrimination act by the June 2015 legalization of same-sex marriage around the country. He said he wasn’t sure when he would pick up the petitions and start the drive.

“We would shout to the world that we’re on the side of human dignity and tolerance and true diversity,” Heath said, adding that his proposal would also add language to prevent “special rights” from being afforded on the basis of sexual orientation.

Advocacy group EqualityMaine swiftly condemned Heath’s proposal. The group says the initiative seeks to undo years of work by state leaders and equal rights advocates to protect all Mainers from discrimination regardless of sexual orientation.

“The current law has been working for more than a decade,” said Matt Moonen, executive director of EqualityMaine. “This initiative is a blatant effort to turn back the clock and single out lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people so that it’s once again legal to fire them, deny them housing, or kick them out of a restaurant simply because of who they are.”

Laws concerning the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have drawn criticism recently in other states, such as North Carolina, which passed a law preventing local governments from extending protections to cover sexual orientation and gender identity at restaurants, hotels and stores. Mississippi’s governor signed a law that allows religious groups and some private businesses to deny services to gay and transgender people.

The extension of Maine’s anti-discrimination law to gays predates legal same-sex marriage in the state. Same-sex marriage became legal in Maine in 2012.

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