BANGOR – The question of whether businesses would suffer if same-sex marriage is legalized in Maine consumed much of Wednesday’s debate on the issue, which will be decided by state voters on Nov. 6.

Carroll Conley of the Christian Civic League of Maine argued that owners of wedding-related businesses who morally 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 prohibits discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The two men interrupted and corrected each other during the debate broadcast live on WABI-TV in Bangor as they answered questions from callers and those posting to social media. It was one of the few times before Election Day when the sides will debate.

Conley said business owners in Vermont and other states where gay marriage is legal have already been subject to lawsuits. He said printers, caterers, wedding photographers and notaries who object to same-sex marriage 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.”

“He has his head in the sand,” Conley shot back.

Question 1 asks Maine voters if they want to allow the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Maine is one of four states voting on the issue this fall. Washington state and Maryland are also voting on referendum questions that would legalize same-sex marriage, and Minnesota is voting on a question that asks if it should be banned.

In 2009, Mainers voted 53-47 percent to repeal a gay marriage law that had been approved by the state Legislature.

At another point in the debate, Conley said government does have a role in defining marriage for the public good, which is why most states and the federal government do not allow gay couples to marry.

“I can’t marry a minor,” he said. “I can’t marry a close blood relative.”

McTighe said gays and lesbians want the current definition of marriage to apply to them and are seeking the right to go to their local town clerk’s office to get a marriage license. Clergy and other religious leaders would not be forced 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.”

In his closing argument, Conley asked voters to put the brakes on the gay-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.

Staff Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 621-5643 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com