AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s secretary of state approved language Wednesday for a citizens’ initiative that would ask Mainers once again whether they want to allow same-sex couples to marry.

A coalition of same-sex marriage advocates led by EqualityMaine is set to begin gathering signatures as early as this weekend. If that effort is successful, Maine voters would be asked in November 2012 this question:

“Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?”

Pastor Michael Gray of Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church, one of six original signers of the initiative petition, thanked Secretary of State Charlie Summers for promptly approving the language.

“As campaign volunteers fan out across the state to collect signatures from their fellow Mainers I expect they will encounter thousands of willing signers who have changed their hearts and minds on marriage after getting to know their gay and lesbian neighbors, co-workers and community members — just as I have done,” Gray said.

The initiative approved by the secretary of state is based on legislation titled An Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom. Essentially, it would permit gay and lesbian couples to obtain licenses to legally marry in Maine. It would not, however, require churches to perform such marriages in violation of their religious teachings.

“The state is never going to go into a church and tell them who they can and can’t marry,” Gray said.

Nevertheless, the effort is expected to face strong opposition from religious groups and others.

In 2009, after the Maine Legislature approved a similar measure allowing same-sex marriage, a people’s veto effort immediately was launched by a coalition of evangelical Christian churches and the Catholic Church in Maine.

In November 2009, after intensely political campaigns from both sides, Maine overturned the same-sex marriage law with 53 percent of voters supporting repeal.

Rita Clifford, one of the original signers of the petition, lives in Scarborough with her partner of 30 years, Sara Jane Elliot. The couple hope enough hearts and minds have changed in Maine since November 2009.

“So many of our friends and neighbors have heard firsthand how important the responsibilities and commitment of marriage are to us and we know we’ll get a lot of support from them and many other Mainers,” Clifford said.

All New England states except Maine and Rhode Island allow same-sex marriage. Iowa, New York and Washington, D.C., also allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. Rhode Island recently legalized civil unions, and Maine has a domestic partnership law that affords some legal rights to same-sex couples.

Same-sex advocates announced their plans in late June to launch a citizens’ initiative. The group must gather at least 57,277 valid signatures by January 2012 to get the question on the November 2012 ballot.

In addition to the signature-gathering effort, supporters have created a political action committee, Dirigo Family PAC, that will manage the campaign and solicit donations.

Although a coalition to oppose same-sex marriage has not been officially formed, Marc Mutty, spokesman for the Portland Diocese of the Catholic Church, said in June that the church would continue to support traditional marriage. He did not know what role the Catholic Church might play in any future campaign.

“We are greatly disappointed to hear of EqualityMaine’s plan to launch yet another referendum campaign on the issue of same-sex marriage in Maine,” Mutty said. “The people of this state rejected same-sex marriage in November of 2009 and should not be put through what will likely be another divisive, drawn-out campaign.”