A film about Maine's same-sex marriage battle

  • Article by: JOE FOX
  • Updated: May 10, 2012 - 9:52 PM

Here's what I learned filming the campaign over same-sex marriage in Maine.

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From the movie "Question One" --a supporter of "yes" on one campaign in Maine urging people to keep marriage between a man and a woman.

Photo: Matthew Finlin, Fly On the Wall Productions

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The battle over same-sex marriage -- I lived it and breathed it and covered it for three months in 2009 as the people in Maine battled it out during a grueling referendum campaign.

As a filmmaker, I was granted extraordinary access to both sides. I was privy to closed-door sessions where strategies and tactics were developed.

I followed canvassers as they knocked on countless doors. I listened -- to the hopes and dreams, the fears, the passion and the fury of mostly ordinary people caught up in the fight of their lives.

Fast-forward to 2012. Another same-sex marriage referendum battle is playing out, this time in Minnesota (as well as in four other states across the country).

And while President Obama has evolved in his thinking -- will that trickle down to the ordinary folks who vote?

I believe the film we made in Maine, "Question One," which will be screened at the Mall of America Theatres next week, offers a preview of what will be happening in this state over the next couple of months. I hope it can help shape -- in a small way -- people's own evolution.

Here are a few of my own observations:

Expect the playbook to stay the same.

Do you know who Frank Schubert is? You should. Schubert is a political operative who ran the Prop 8 campaign in California to help defeat marriage there for gays and lesbians. He essentially imported that same campaign to Maine. Re-ran it in North Carolina. And he is now in Minnesota overseeing the same formula that possibly gave him those wins.

Schubert's divert-and-doubt strategy was to claim that if gays and lesbians were allowed to marry, homosexuality then would be taught in public schools. It was a tactic that Schubert's own local campaign manager said was "overinflated."

Will schools be the battleground in which Minnesota's marriage amendment campaign will be fought? You betcha!

Never underestimate the passions.

Yes, people are passionate about this issue. For gays and lesbians wanting to get married, the passion is palpable, visceral: Love. Legal protections. Preserving families. Equality.

But it was the passion I encountered among the anti-gay-marriage folks that surprised me the most -- and not in the way I had expected

I expected that deeply held religious beliefs interwoven with homophobia would drive their behavior. And indeed that often held true. But the passions ran deeper than that.

The fire, fury and rage of those opposing same-sex marriage was stoked in part by a feeling of neglect that had been simmering and brewing for quite some time. It was a feeling that the world they knew had gone mad. And that nobody, certainly not their leaders, was listening to their voices. Or cared about how they felt.

Bewildered. Adrift. Marginalized. Alienated. All feelings that I, as a gay man, could relate to. Feelings that enabled me to find a portal into their hearts and souls and enabled me to tell their stories.

Conversations matter.

No matter where we stand in this debate -- conversations matter. Opinions, I found, were not shifted so much by the air wars of ads and sound bites but rather from the knock on the door followed by a hello

No matter how anyone frames this debate, it's personal. That in part explains why Obama's views might have evolved. It was the people he met. The families he spoke to that didn't necessarily have to convince him with rhetoric but more, I imagine, with a simple conversation.

It happened to me.

As a storyteller and journalist, it was important for me to create a film that did not take sides. I wanted to make a film that held up a mirror and reflected the complexity of an issue, but I also wanted to honestly capture the human stories of all.

It was challenging, though, as someone who is gay and wants with every fiber in my body the right to marry, to connect with those who did not share my point of view and tell their stories.

It was Pastor Bob Emmerich, the cochairman of the "Yes on One" campaign (the side that fought against same-sex marriage) who taught me the value of conversations. Of investing in another individual. And it was faith that brought us together.

You see, Pastor Bob, an evangelical minister with a small church in rural Maine, did not start off as a man of faith. In fact, he did not have much of it. In the 1960s, Pastor Bob ended up in Haight-Ashbury and "dropped out." It took some time, but he found his way to spirituality and faith.

I, too, found my way back to faith. I was raised in faith -- lots of it -- being the son of an Orthodox Rabbi. And I, too, dropped out. Closed the door. Had enough. And slowly I found a way back to my Judaism.

Our stories and our journeys served as our bridge to connect. To discuss. To debate. To see each other as human beings.

And although Pastor Bob might not have evolved in his thinking, I did.

It made me see the other side not as a side. It made me realize that evolution is not just a one-way street.

It made me certain and hopeful that change can happen. But that it takes the patience to invest in a conversation.

One person at a time.

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Joe Fox is a filmmaker. His film on Maine's same-sex referendum battle, "Question One," will be playing May 14-19 at the Mall of America Theatres.

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