Documenting gay-marriage fight in Maine

  • Article by: CLAUDE PECK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 22, 2011 - 11:46 AM

Movie about 2009 ballot initiative is full of relevance for Minnesotans facing a similar campaign.

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"Yes on 1" supporters hold signs beside a highway in Maine.

Photo: Matthew Finlin,

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With a gay-marriage ballot question coming before Minnesotans next year, the documentary "Question One" arrives in the Twin Cities with a built-in sense of urgency.

The just-completed movie will be seen for the first time Thursday (9:30 p.m.) and Saturday (10:45 a.m.) at the Twin Cities Film Fest.

Directed by New York filmmakers Joe Fox and James Nubile, the movie chronicles the 2009 fight in Maine that ensued when Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill making Maine the fifth state to legalize gay marriage. Within months, a petition drive forced a statewide vote.

As is the case in Minnesota, polls at the time showed Maine residents leaning slightly in favor of gay marriage. In Maine, those opposing gay marriage actually thought the other side, which was better organized, would prevail, Fox said in a phone interview.

In the end, by a vote of 53 to 47 percent, Maine voters rejected legalizing marriage for same-sex couples.

The movie opens as the two sides gear up for the fight.

Urging a "yes" vote (to make gay marriage illegal) were troops led by the film's most interesting figure, Marc Mutty, who took a leave from his job as director of public affairs for the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Portland to chair the "Yes on 1" campaign.

Almost from the outset, Mutty reveals doubts about the direction of the campaign and his own role in it, especially once control was largely ceded to public-affairs firm Schubert Flint, which successfully fought gay marriage in California.

At one point, Mutty talks about the "hyperbole" of ads his side ran alleging that young schoolchildren would be forced to learn about "homosexuality" and gay marriage. "We all know that's not a completely accurate statement," Mutty says.

In an interview, Fox described Mutty as "a cinematic gift from the gods" because of his willingness to talk candidly on camera and to express reservations about both the campaign's message and his own leadership role in it.

For his part, Mutty wrote recently in a Portland newspaper that critics had taken his comments out of context.

Lawn signs and bad coffee

The documentary shows the dull daily work at the grass roots on both sides: leafletting, town meetings, phone banks, sign painting, letter writing and endless cups of bad coffee, often set against a picturesque backdrop of harbors, woods, lakes and small towns. While cynics might believe such battles are won and lost by detached media experts via 30-second TV spots, "Question One" shows Maine partisans fighting for what they believe, one lawn sign at a time.

Since the final vote would be known by eventual viewers, Fox said "the movie's suspense has less to do with the outcome than how it played out. We set out to make a movie that was character-driven."

Fighting heart and soul on the "no" side are campaign director Jesse Connolly and field operations director Darlene Huntress. Prominently featured on that side are a pair of lesbian moms, often accompanied by their 7-year-old daughter. Christian conservatives are shown having prayer pep rallies before heading out to door-knock for the "yes" side.

Fox, who is gay, claims that "Question One" is the first film to cover the gay-marriage battle "from both sides of the campaign." He moved to Bath, Maine, renting a house there for three months and logging thousands of miles around the state to shoot interviews and campaign strategy sessions.

Did he gain any insights that might apply to the pending fight in Minnesota? "Just that you can't take anything for granted," Fox said.

  • QUESTION ONE

    What: Documentary about 2009 ballot measure on gay marriage in Maine, directed by Joe Fox and James Nubile and premiering at the Twin Cities Film Fest.

    When: 9:30 p.m. Thu. & 10:45 a.m. Sat., with Fox present for both.

    Where: ShowPlace Icon, 1625 West End Blvd., St. Louis Park.

    Tickets: www.twincitiesfilmfest.org or www.showplaceicon.com.

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