John Baldacci, the governor of Maine, has given his support for gay marriage in the state and urged voters to do the same.

Gay marriage was legalised in Maine earlier this year but opponents collected enough signatures to force a referendum. Voters will decide whether gay couples should have equal marriage rights on November 3rd.

Speaking at an event this week, Baldacci said: “In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions.

“I came to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.”

He added that this would not force religions to recognise gay marriage.

If voters are persuaded to keep gay marriage, Maine will be the sixth state to legalise it after Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Iowa.

A poll of 1,000 eligible voters in the state by Public Policy Polling this month found that 48 per cent were in favour of the new rights and 48 per cent were against it.

A more recent, but much smaller survey of 400 people by the Pan-Atlantic SMS Group found that 53 per cent wanted gay marriage in the state with 42 per cent opposed.