A struggle for marriage equality: Question One shows May 14-19 at MOA


On May 6, 2009, Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill making same-sex marriage legal in the state. However, opponents of the law petitioned to stop its implementation and forced a statewide referendum on the measure, which was dubbed “Question One.” Less than six months later, the opponents of same-sex marriage prevailed — by a vote of 300,848 to 267,828 — and the law was overturned.

The dramatic events in Maine, which pitted gays and lesbians and their supporters against the Catholic Church and evangelical Christians, are depicted in Question One, an entirely fascinating, 95-minute documentary that will have its first theatrical release May 14-19 at Theatres at Mall of America.

Joe Fox, director, writer and producer of Question One, talked to the AJW last week about the film, marriage equality and Minnesota’s upcoming vote on a ballot measure to chisel a definition of traditional marriage into the state constitution.

Fox, 51, is the gay son of an Orthodox rabbi and an accomplished journalist. His series for USA Today, “Voices of Peace,” which investigated the peace process in Northern Ireland, South Africa and Israel, was the paper’s submission for the Pulitzer Prize.

Previously, Fox and James Nubile, the associate director, editor and producer of Question One, made the documentary Passing Poston, about a Japanese internment camp during World War II. That film aired on PBS affiliates across the United States.

One supporter of the Question 1 ballot measure in Maine holds up his Bible, in a scene from the documentary Question One. (Photo: Courtesy of Fly On The Wall Productions)

Question One achieves its substantial intellectual and emotional impact by covering the Maine vote on rescinding the same-sex marriage law from the vantage of both camps. The filmmakers embedded with both the No on One group campaigning to retain the 2009 Maine marriage equality law, and the Yes on One faction — also called Stand for Marriage Maine — which argued that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to the “teaching of homosexuality” to elementary school children.

The documentary covers a Yes on One rally that featured Pastor Chris Clark, of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church, San Diego, Calif. He declares that gays are not the enemy; rather: “Our enemy is the devil.”

The Christian religious folk ostensibly have nothing against gays; but they declare that their side is in a struggle with Lucifer himself — or that sanctioning same-sex marriage will lead to our society becoming like “Sodom and Gomorrah.” Can the director of the documentary sort that out?

“I can’t sort it out,” Fox replies. “Let’s go over those statements: We’re not against gay people, but it’s from the devil. I mean, what are you talking about here? If you’re equating a group of people with the devil, that’s demonizing the other group of people. It’s a nonsensical statement, as far as I’m concerned.”

The Yes on One group also frames homosexuality as a personal decision, as opposed to something innate in an individual’s makeup.

Linda Seavy, one of the Yes on One campaign activists profiled in the film, has a lesbian niece, and says that she hopes that her niece changes her “decision” to be a lesbian.

“That’s always the argument you hear: a lifestyle choice,” Fox says, regarding the mentality of the Yes on One backers.

Asked about his personal history, his coming out as a gay man from an Orthodox community, Fox explains, “When I came out I was long past being Orthodox. That ship had set sail. However, it was very difficult for me, when I did come out, to find a place for myself as a Jew anywhere.”

Left: Joe Fox: I think that the battle is far from over.

Regarding the role of Jews in the 2009 Maine ballot contest, Fox remarks, “There aren’t that many Jews in Maine.” He says that most of the Jews live in Portland and Bangor.

“There definitely were Jewish clergy that were involved in the overall religious coalition for marriage equality,” he recalls, and draws a comparison to Minnesota, where synagogues and Jewish organizations overwhelmingly are supporting the effort to defeat the marriage amendment on the November ballot.

Fox did not recall the presence of any Orthodox Jews or rabbis among the Yes on One campaigners, who are shown praying for victory in Question One, often in the name of Jesus. He thinks there must be a few Orthodox shuls in Maine. “There had to be at least one… or Chabad is out there,” he comments.

As for the Yes on One coalition, Fox says, “The religious forces that really banded together to fight [same-sex marriage] were the Catholic Church — that was through the archbishop — and the evangelical [Christian] community, through Pastor Bob Emrich, who was the co-leader of the Yes on One campaign. It was really an unlikely alliance that came together between the Church and the evangelical community, because usually they don’t get on too well.”

One of the intriguing figures in the documentary is Marc Mutty, director of public affairs for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Mutty took a leave of absence from his position to serve as co-chair of the Yes on One campaign. In Question One, he continually kvetches about the demands of the campaign.

In response to my question about a scene where Mutty, exasperated by his leadership role, lets loose with some choice expletives, Fox comments that the “situation overwhelmed him.” Mutty, according to the director, was “depleted, on the verge of having a nervous breakdown.”

Among Mutty’s problems was dealing with Frank Schubert, who directed the successful Prop 8 campaign to make same-sex marriage illegal in California, and also similar campaigns in other states, including Maine. Schubert, who worked for Sacramento-based Schubert Flint Public Affairs, directed the Maine effort to overturn the marriage equality law; he appears in Question One footage shot on the day of the vote, taking credit for the successful Yes on One campaign. In the run-up to the vote, Mutty and other organizers voice their displeasure about Schubert’s tactics.

And now, according to Fox (and press reports), Schubert, who is no longer with the Schubert Flint firm, is directing the campaign to pass the Minnesota ballot measure, a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being between one man and one woman.

It should be mentioned that Question One also presents compelling characters campaigning to maintain same-sex marriage under Maine law. Sarah Dowling, who lives with her partner, Linda Wolfe, and her darling daughter, Maya, in Freeport, comments on her desire to make her relationship legal. Dowling, who is shown canvassing door to door to defeat Question 1, is one of the very appealing human faces in the marriage equality movement.

Also, Darlene Huntress, the grassroots director of the No on One campaign, is seen throwing herself into the work; heartbroken and in tears when the election results go the other way; and with her partner, Melissa, whom she joins in Salem, Ore., following the campaign.

A promotional themeline for Question One states: “The battle for same-sex marriage has just begun.”

Fox, who came up with that line, says, “I think that the battle is far from over. It remains, culturally and societally, one of the major battles of our time. In a way it really hasn’t begun, quite in earnest yet.”

He mentions that five states, including Minnesota, will have same-sex referenda in the fall. And he adds, “There are court cases [challenging same-sex marriage bans] that are winding their way up to the Supreme Court.”

In short, there is no timelier documentary film for Minnesotans than Question One.

Question One will be shown 7 p.m. May 14-19 at Theatres at Mall of America. Joe Fox will be present at all screenings and tickets are $10; visit: www.twincitiesfilmfest.org.

Jewish Community Action (JCA) will hold a screening of Question One 7 p.m. Thursday, May 17. A reception with filmmaker Joe Fox will begin at 5:30 p.m.

Fox will also join JCA for a post-film discussion. He will discuss how his background of being gay and Jewish helped to shape the making of the film.

The screening is a fundraiser with a suggested minimum donation of $18. Preregistration is required; call Carin or Laura at 651-632-2184 or visit: givemn.razoo.com/story/Question1jca.

For information about the film, visit: www.q1-thefilm.com.