The leader of the group in opposition to equal marriage becoming legal in the state of Maryland, downplayed a pastor’s reading from a scripture which said gay people were “deserving of death”.

Derek McCoy, the executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, was sat next to a pastor in a Town-Hall meeting earlier this week, when the comment was made.

Robert J Anderson of the Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, cited the scriptures in his argument against equal marriage:

“Those who practice such things are deserving of death,” Anderson said, quoting from Romans, Chapter 1.

He went on to say that if equal marriage became law in the referendum on 6 November: “then we are approving those things that are worthy of death.”

Mr McCoy responded on Wednesday with a statement which read:

“Any attempt to imply that Dr Anderson’s reading of scripture was a call to harm gays and lesbians is false and serves as a distraction from the real issues of this campaign.”

“From the beginning, we have been deeply committed to civility and honor the value of everyone’s human rights,” He said.

“We continue to deplore violence or bullying against any person and or group of people on either side of this issue. … There are people of good will on both sides of this issue. … Supporting traditional marriage does not make anyone anti-gay.”

Advocates of equal marriage had more to say about Mr Anderson’s reading, with the leaders of pro-equality group, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, calling on Mr McCoy to apologise.

“Such rancid comments have absolutely no place in this debate,” Sultan Shakir of Marylanders for Marriage Equality said in a statement sent to reporters on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the pro-equality group sent a fundraising appeal which featured testimony from Irene Huskins, a police officer, who also commented on the reading.

“As a police captain here in Prince George’s County, I protect and serve my community,” Huskins said in the e-mail. “And I find these remarks horrifying.”

Voters in Maryland, Maine and Washington will vote on 6 November, to decide whether or not to legalise equal marriage law. Minnesotan voters will vote on whether to make a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.