Democrat Jason Carter, who quietly came out for gay marriage earlier this summer, strongly stated his support for marriage equality during a candidate debate on Tuesday.

Carter addressed marriage equality when 11Alive's Jeff Hullinger asked him about a federal lawsuit challenging Georgia's gay marriage ban. With the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on Monday allowing gay marriage in 11 more states, Hullinger asked if it's time for Georgia to stop defending its own ban.

"This issue is one that divides people in this state in different contexts but I'll tell you where I stand. I don't believe you can ever tell a church who to marry. I don't believe that you can ever tell someone's religion what to believe. But the government should dole out those rights and responsibilities equally," Carter said (watch above).

Carter offered a more nuanced response to whether the state should stop defending itself against a federal lawsuit challenging the gay marriage ban.

"As far as the lawsuit goes, I don't think that we should waste taxpayer dollars but I think that we should be clear about what happens with our Constitution. I respect the legal process and I would let the folks making those decisions make them. But if it becomes clear that it's a waste of taxpayer dollars, I think we should stop," Carter said.

Carter is the first Democratic candidate for governor to back same-sex marriage. He faces Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican who in 2010 turned that race into one of the most anti-gay campaigns seen in Georgia. Also in 2010, Libertarian John Monds supported gay marriage and marched in the Atlanta Pride parade. Andrew Hunt, the current Libertarian candidate, has not responded to a question about gay marriage from Project Q Atlanta. Though Hunt's website addresses scores of issues in a "Freedom and Fairness" section, it does not mention gay marriage. Hunt did tell the AJC in September that gay marriage is coming to the state.

And gay marriage, Hunt thinks, is a fait accompli. “There’s nothing Georgia needs to do. Gay marriage is going to be allowed soon, because the courts – just as they have in all the other states – will overturn it. So no action will be required,” he said.

In August, Carter tapped gay politico Ken Britt for his campaign committee, just a few weeks after Britt helped organize an LGBT fundraiser that raised nearly $90,000 for Carter's campaign.

[video via WMAZ]