LEVANT, Maine — When the owner of a local family farm operation exercised his right to free speech by putting up a small political sign near a private driveway, some customers with an opposing view exercised their consumer rights to boycott the business.
That, in turn, prompted others to publicly come out in support of the farm family in a battle that is being waged primarily on the farm’s Facebook page.
At issue is a small lawn size “No on 1” sign that Gary Treworgy, patriarch of the family farm, put up in front of his house. The property is also the location of a business that employs several family members.
“Don’t redefine marriage. Vote NO on Question One. Marriage=One Man + One Woman,” read the sign, sponsored by the Protect Marriage Maine campaign.
A citizen initiative on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot, Question 1 seeks to overturn Maine’s ban on same-sex marriage. The issue has proven a contentious one — pitting neighbors, family members and friends against one another from one end of the state to the other.
The first post critical of Treworgy’s sign appeared Sunday, family spokesman Jon Kenerson said Monday afternoon. Within less than 24 hours, more than 15,000 people had visited the page, with many of them weighing in with comments, he said.
Though Treworgy removed the sign Monday morning, after someone stopped to say it was hurtful, the Facebook battle continued to rage.
On Monday, several members of the family said they were taken aback by the backlash they had received.
A sampling of posts from Question 1 supporters:
• “You have lost all of my family’s business as of now. You may not know me personally, but my family has done business for years with you. It’s disgusting that you would bring personal ideals into your business page. All the years you took making the orchard great and in a matter of weeks, you have ruined your name and business. We will be using Wallingford’s Orchard as of now. Hopefully lost profits will teach you to be tolerant and respectful in future business dealings.”
• “You are certainly entitled to your beliefs but your business will no longer be supported by my family.”
• “No matter your belief, it still shouldn’t be expressed at your place of business. You lost so many of your loyal customers. While you may believe that being gay is a sin, no one is free of sin, including you.”
And a sample from those who support the Treworgy family:
• “You may have lost many who ‘like’ your page, but you have gained me.”
• “ … I commend you for defending/explaining your stance on Question 1. I think it’s sad that because you support No on 1 that you are looked upon as ‘closed-minded’ or discriminatory. So what that you don’t share the Yeson 1 viewpoint. … I thought we lived in a free country with freedom of speech.”
• “You have a new customer in my family. Thank you for your courage.”
• “I will continue to support your farm. Regardless of your point of view. If everyone could take a minute and stop condemning people of their views it would be great. With that being said … If people knew every company’s personal views they wouldn’t be able to shop anywhere. … Btw I support gay marriage … I believe everyone should have the right to marry who they love … Same rights as everyone else … No more no less.”
The controversy playing out on the Treworgy Family Orchards Facebook page prompted the family to post a lengthy statement Sunday night in which the family apologized for any hurt the sign might have caused — but at the same time stood by its position on same-sex marriage.
“This is obviously a very divisive issue and we value the freedom for every citizen to exercise their rights to express their opinion,” the statement read. “It’s a shame that so many assume that we are hateful and discriminatory simply because we are convinced that marriage is defined by a higher power than civil government.”
It was not clear Monday how the to-do over the sign might affect the orchard’s business in the long run. Kenerson said everyone, regardless of their politics, is welcome.
“We want people to know that it is possible to disagree with someone and continue to love and serve them as we have consistently done for years at our farm. No matter the outcome of the referendum in November.
“ Treworgy Family Orchards will continue to be a place that welcomes and serves people from every walk of life,” he said. “We love all our guests even if we don’t see eye to eye on everything.”