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(Reuters) - Opponents of same-sex marriage in Maryland announced on Tuesday they have submitted more than twice the number of signatures needed to put the state's new law allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry before voters in a referendum.
The Maryland Marriage Alliance, a coalition of groups working to preserve the traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, said it has collected more than 113,000 voter signatures.
That figure far exceeded the 56,000 signatures needed to bring the law to a referendum. A third of those had to be submitted by Thursday.
"There are people that are just impassioned about this issue around the state," said the organization's executive director, Derek McCoy, speaking after a press conference announcing the success of the petition drive. "I think what you're seeing is, people don't want a radical redefinition of marriage just on a whim."
McCoy said more than 4,000 people trained to collect signatures campaigned in churches and other venues, and held gatherings in their homes within the last couple of months.
He said support for the referendum grew after President Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, as Maryland voters unhappy with this announcement "came off the fence" and decided to sign the petition.
Marylanders for Marriage Equality campaign manager Josh Levin said in a statement that the opponents' announcement comes as no surprise, but added that "it's clear those opposed to marriage equality are losing ground."
A poll conducted recently by the organization found 57 percent of Maryland residents would vote to uphold the law legalizing same-sex unions, and 37 percent would vote against it if the election were held today.
In March, Maryland became the eighth U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage, joining the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York. when Governor Martin O'Malley signed the measure into law.
In Washington state, where Governor Christine Gregoire signed a law legalizing same-sex marriage in February, opponents are trying to bring the issue to a voter referendum in November. In New Jersey, similar legislation passed both houses before it was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie.
Editing by Paul Thomasch. Desking by Christopher Wilson