BANGOR — The two sides in the same-sex marriage debate traded barbs Wednesday on what would happen to businesses if gay marriage becomes legal in Maine.
Carroll Conley of the Christian Civic League of Maine argued that business owners who object to gay marriage would be put in a difficult position because they would be forced to provide services to gay couples.
But Matt McTighe of Mainers United for Marriage said those business owners already have to abide by the state’s 2005 law that does not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.
This argument consumed much of a one-hour debate broadcast live on WABI TV-5 in Bangor, where the two men interrupted and corrected each other as callers, and those using social media, lobbed questions their way. It’s one of the few times before the Nov. 6 election where the sides will debate.
Conley said business owners in Vermont and other states where gay marriage is legal are being faced with lawsuits because they don’t want to provide services to gay people. He said printers, caterers, wedding photographers and notaries public will all be faced with a difficult situation.
“They will all be forced to do something against their deeply held religious beliefs,” he said.
McTighe said those suits are separate from gay marriage.
“Those have nothing to do with marriage law,” he said. “They have to do with current laws on discrimination.”
Conley shot back.
“He has his head in the sand,” he said.
Maine is one of four states voting this fall on gay marriage. Question 1 will ask voters if they want to allow the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In 2009, Mainers repealed a gay marriage law, with 53 percent of voters in favor of the repeal and 47 percent against.
At another point in the debate, Conley said government has a role in defining marriage for the public good, which is why most states and the federal government do not allow gay couples to get married.
“I can’t marry a minor,” he said. “I can’t marry a close blood relative.”
McTighe said gays and lesbians are being asked to be included in the current definition of marriage and are seeking the right to go to their local town clerk’s office to get a marriage license. The law would also exempt clergy and other religious leaders from having to perform gay marriages if it goes against their beliefs.
McTighe challenged Conley’s assertion that children do best with a mother and a father.
“What all the research shows is children do best in a loving, stable home,” McTighe said.
He said many gays and lesbians are already raising children in Maine and that being able to marry would “make those children safer and more secure.”
The most bizarre question of the night came from a woman from Hallowell who made reference to gay-marriage supporters receiving money from the North American Man/Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA.
“That is 100 percent false,” McTighe said.
In his closing argument, Conley asked voters to put the brakes on the same-sex marriage movement.
“To those of you who are struggling, we say hold on,” he said. “Examine what’s going on in other states. We say to the citizens of Maine hold on and vote no on Question 1.”
McTighe said his group has had more than 200,000 conversations with Mainers about gay marriage and what it can do to strengthen communities.
“We hope that all Mainers, when they go to the ballot Nov. 6, will think about people they know whose lives will be greatly impacted by this vote,” he said.
Susan Cover – 621-5643