A TRAGIC HERO, OF SORTS Lead anti-gay-marriage campaigner Marc Mutty explores his regrets.
When Joe Fox and James Nubile began work on their documentary, Question One, which covers 2009's gay-marriage battle from inside both camps, they had no idea that Marc Mutty would be such a compelling interviewee. Mutty, who took leave from his job as public affairs director of Portland's Roman Catholic archdiocese to chair the Yes on One (anti-gay-marriage) campaign, is this film's tragic hero — not for his work against equality, of course, but as a character in this story.
Fox and Nubile, who run a New York City-based production company, Fly On The Wall Productions, convinced both the pro- and anti-marriage teams to allow them "embedded" access to campaign operations during the 2009 referendum fight. Both sides agreed, on the condition that the footage not be shown until after the election. We all remember how that election ended, with 53 percent voting to repeal Maine's gay-marriage law, and 47 percent voting to preserve the same-sex marriage bill the legislature had approved and the governor had signed into law.
For three months leading up to Election Day, Fox and Nubile traveled the state, documenting grassroots efforts, campaign strategy meetings, prayer meetings, and phone banks. From 260 hours of tape, they culled five primary stories from both sides: those of No on One leader Darlene Huntress; lesbian mom Sarah Dowling; gay-marriage opponent Pastor Bob Emrich; Yes on One volunteer Linda Seavey; and Mutty. The result is an inside look at the toll this issue campaign took on its operatives and volunteers, not to mention on the entire state of Maine.
The filmmakers capture an exhausted Mutty "asking for forgiveness for the ways in which I may have betrayed my own self in this endeavor" and butting heads with Frank Schubert of Schubert Flint Public Affairs, the consulting firm that led efforts to overturn gay marriage in California — the dramatic "Prop 8" debacle. At one point, Mutty refers to the campaign as a "fucking son of a bitch — I hate it, I hate it, I hate it."
It's truly sad to watch this polished political veteran ("I had the experience of doing campaigns," he says of why he took on the role, "and if I didn't do it, I don't know who would have.") grapple with such internal conflict. He appears to believe the Yes on One strategy — to harp on how gay marriage would affect kids and classrooms — is "a lousy approach."
While these could be damning words for Mutty and for the anti-marriage side, Fox (who is gay) and Nubile say that they did not set out to make a pro-gay-marriage movie. "I wanted to present a nuanced portrait of the issue," Fox says, "and real, fully developed characters." He says he feels almost "defensive" of his interviewees on both sides.
So, with gay marriage coming back to Maine voters next year, does this movie offer a roadmap for best practices — lessons for the campaigns to use this time around? The documentary portrays a No on One campaign that was much better organized and staffed than its counterpart; one memorable scene juxtaposes a bustling No on One headquarters with a practically empty Yes on One office. Certainly, this suggests that complacency is dangerous for the pro-marriage activists. Solid campaign operations do not equal votes. Another takeaway: Those who oppose gay marriage may not be able to rely on the same (spurious) arguments as they did two years ago.