The leader of the group trying to defeat Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on Wednesday downplayed the significance of comments made by a pastor at a recent town-hall meeting that gay rights activists have called “viciously anti-gay.”

During the meeting, Robert J. Anderson of the Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, read from scripture as part of his argument against allowing gay unions.

“Those who practice such things are deserving of death,” Anderson said, quoting from Romans, Chapter 1. He went on to argue that if Question 6 is not defeated on Nov. 6, “then we are approving those things that are worthy of death.”

Derek McCoy, the executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the group leading opposition to Question 6, was sitting next to Anderson on the panel and didn’t respond. On Wednesday, McCoy called the episode a “distraction” from the real debate.

Leaders of Marylanders for Marriage Equality had called upon McCoy, whose organization sponsored the event, to apologize and disavow Anderson’s comments.

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

On Wednesday, Shakir’s group sent out a fundraising appeal from Irene Huskins, a police officer in Prince George’s County, citing the episode.

“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.”

McCoy responded Wednesday afternoon, issuing a statement that began: “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,” McCoy 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.”

McCoy’s group is seeking to repeal a law signed in March by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) that would allow same-sex marriages in Maryland starting in January. The law was put on the ballot following a successful petition drive by McCoy’s group.