Maine is the latest New England state to take up the issue of same-sex marriage.

Approximately 4,000 people packed into the Augusta Civic Centre after the public were invited to a hearing to discuss the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Senator Dennis Damon received a round of applause when he told the crowd that the time has come to recognise same-sex marriages.

At the hearing he said of the proposed bill: “The bill is fair; the bill’s time has come. It recognises the worth of every man and woman among us”.

It is backed by 60 co-sponsors and the numbers appear to have a three to one margin of support for this bill.

Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Richard Malone also testified in favour of the legislation. He said that while Maine should not redefine marriage, the diocese supported civil rights for gay men and lesbians.

Bishop Malone said: “Marriage is not simply an economic compact. In nearly every culture, it’s a social institution with the primary purpose of ensuring that the next generation grows up in a secure, loving, balanced environment guided by both male and female parents.”

There are concerns however as to whether Maine will be the third state to legalise same-sex marriages as governor John Baldacci has previously opposed the bill.

Baldacci has spoken of his opposition to the bill in the past but claims that this time he is keeping an open mind.

Gay rights activists intend to establish same-sex marriage in all six New England states by 2012. They are already halfway there.

Iowa recently became the first Midwestern state to allow gay marriage on April 3rd.

Maine’s Assembly is also weighing a bill which would extend the benefits that go with the current domestic partnership registry.

If the bill is passed, marriage would be redefined in Maine. In 1997, Maine enacted a law stating that marriage is an institution only between a man and a woman. Voters added gay men and lesbians to the state’s anti-discrimination law in 2005, after rejecting a similar amendment by a people’s veto in 1998 and 2000.