Op-ed: To Get Ready for November, Look Back to Maine

Documentary filmmaker Joe Fox got a rare look inside the campaign apparatus of marriage opponents in Maine in 2009, and what he learned could make a difference.

BY Joe Fox

June 20 2012 3:00 AM ET

From the Question One documentary

In Washington state, another round in the same-sex marriage battle began last week. It’s called R-74, in which those opposed to us gay and lesbian folk being allowed to wed collected enough signatures to put our right to say “I do” up for a majority vote.

In 2009 in Maine, it was called “Question One,” a marriage referendum campaign that I lived, breathed and covered as we made our documentary – Question One. For three months, I gained incredible access to both sides of the campaign. My camera was embedded from the moment signatures were gathered all the way through to the days after our defeat.

What happened during those three months and what we were able to capture offers valuable lessons not only for Washington, but also for the four other states that will hold marriage referendums in November. And what we learned informs the bigger picture  on whether  gays and lesbians can achieve full equality in this country. But the lessons didn’t come easy.

Personally, filming “Question One” was a twisted journey that forced me back into the closet. Then as a filmmaker I was stumped by how to tell the story of the opponents. Before I could learn anything about what happened and share it with audiences, I would have to understand the opponents. Eventually a realization made that possible.

For the first month or so in Maine, things pretty much played out as expected. The leaders spouted their party lines. The foot soldiers echoed. And the playbook used by professional marriage opponents Schubert and Flint in the Prop. 8 campaign in California was once again trotted out to create fear and raise doubts. They once again diverted the conversation from marriage to schools and kids.

No big surprises — until the campaign chairman of “Yes On One,” Marc Mutty, started talking. And talking. And talking.

“I fear I will be remembered for the work I did on this campaign,” lamented Mutty during the first of many interviews I had with him at his home. The interviews, as the campaign went on, became part therapy and many part confessional. “I’m not particularly fond of being remembered as the star bigot in Maine,” he said, “the one who led the charge to deny gays and lesbians of their fundamental civil rights, which is how it will be painted I fear.”

Not exactly what I expected to hear admitted by a loyal soldier true to his cause. Mutty, a few years away from getting his pension, was approached by Portland Archbishop Richard Malone to run the “Yes On One” campaign. According to Mutty, same-sex marriage was not an issue that he felt particularly strongly about – one way or another.  Caught between a rock and a hard place, Mutty agreed to running “yes.”

“If the Bishop gave you a choice?” I asked him, “would you have done it?”

“No!” he said, with eyes widening and a voice firm. “No! This was not of my choosing.”

When I interviewed Mutty at the start of his campaign, he described himself as being, “the chief cook and bottle washer.” But as the campaign went on, and layers started to be peeled off of the veneer, it became clear that Mutty was no chief cook. He never even came close to the kitchen.

What I soon discovered was that nothing was being run by Mutty — or run by anyone in Maine. The shotswere all being fired from the other side of the country, in downtown Sacramento, California – where the offices of political strategy firm Schubert and Flint Public Affairs were located.

Mutty was merely a local figurehead put into place by the bishop and the National Organization of Marriage to create the façade that the campaign was being run by Mainers for Marriage. Thinking he could make a Faustian pact with the devil and beat the odds, Mutty genuinely felt at the start that he could run this campaign “in a way that wouldn’t offend.”

Clearly he underestimated the emotions and passions and what this issue deeply means to us. He also underestimated the likes of Frank Schubert and Jeff Flint, who quickly sidelined and steamrolled him, eventually leaving Mutty with no meaningful leadership role other than being the public, local face of a campaign in which he became the vilified target and focus of ridicule and scorn.

On the eve of the election, eyes swollen and red, a distraught Mutty through whiskey-slurred speech looked straight into the camera and bleated: “This has been a fucking son of a bitch. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it."

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