Call it winner’s remorse.
Seventeen months after he led the charge to repeal Maine’s same-sex marriage law, Marc Mutty is anything but a happy man.
In fact, a soon-to-be-released documentary shows that even back in the fall of 2009, the chairman of the Yes on 1 campaign found himself tethered to an increasingly heavy conscience.
Let’s go to the tape:
“We use a lot of hyperbole and I think that’s always dangerous,” says Mutty during a Yes on 1 strategy session, at the time on leave from his job as public affairs director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine.
“You know, we say things like ‘Teachers will be forced to (teach same-sex marriage in schools)!’ ” he continues. “Well, that’s not a completely accurate statement and we all know it isn’t, you know?”
“No,” interjects a woman off-camera. “We don’t say that.”
“Let’s look back at our ads and see what we say,” Mutty persists. “And I think we use hyperbole to the point where, you know, it’s like ‘Geez!’ “
The documentary, co-directed by New York City filmmakers Joe Fox and James Nubile, is a story in itself.
Back in early 2009, Fox and Nubile approached both sides in the looming same-sex marriage battle seeking permission for their film company (aptly named Fly on the Wall Productions) to document the referendum campaign from the inside out.
Remarkably, both camps said yes — on the condition that none of the footage be shown until after the election.
Hence the filmmakers spent months in Maine interviewing dozens of people on camera (myself included) about what the referendum meant to them personally and to the state as a whole.
“I think we went beyond the obvious and were able to capture the humanity of all sides involved,” Fox said in a telephone interview last week. “I think we have something here.”
“Question 1,” now in post-production, is tentatively scheduled for release late this summer or fall. But if a recently released trailer is any indication, Fox has good reason to be optimistic.
The six-minute excerpt, along with several other clips posted on the movie’s Facebook page, offers front-row views of players on both sides of the hard-fought contest — including a close-up of Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for No on 1/Protect Maine Equality, conceding with tears in his eyes that “at the end of the day, these people deserve to get married — and I couldn’t get it done for them.”
But it is Mutty, sitting atop a campaign almost identical to the 2008 effort that beat back same-sex marriage in California, whose on-camera disclosures could well steal the show.
“This has been a (double expletive). This has been awful. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it,” a clearly exhausted Mutty says midway through the trailer.
At another point, he laments, “I fear I’ll be remembered for the work I did on this campaign.”
He even goes so far as to plead “for forgiveness for the ways in which I might have betrayed my own self in this endeavor.”
Then there’s the strategizing.
“All we have to do is create doubt,” Mutty says, during that strategy session. “You don’t have to convince people that you’re right.”
And how, pray tell, do you do that?
“I know we need to do what we have to do — not only slam people over the head with a two-by-four, but a two-by-four with nails sticking out of it,” he says. “And it’s nuts … unfortunately, I think it’s a lousy approach. But it’s the only thing we’ve got — it’s the only way. That’s the way campaigns work.”
Contacted last week, Mutty said yes, he’s seen the advance movie clips.
First and foremost, he said, he regrets his use of profanity.
“I’m very sorry and apologetic for having used the language I did,” he said. “It certainly was unbecoming for the spokesman of the Catholic Church.”
But his salty vocabulary is not the only thing he regrets.
What eventually became the “sound bite” about same-sex marriage being required teaching in public schools, Mutty said, force-fed voters “a very narrow perspective or narrow interpretation of a far greater conversation that needs to be had.”
The man’s too modest. The schools “sound bite” was flat-out false — and Mutty, for one, knew it.
Then there’s the personal toll the campaign took on its chairman.
Mutty, 62, said he can’t remember actually being told by his boss, Bishop Richard Malone, to run the campaign.
“I did it because I was the natural guy to do it,” he said. “I had the experience of doing campaigns and if I didn’t do it, I don’t know who would have done it.”
But by the time Election Day arrived, Mutty said, he was physically and emotionally exhausted and under the care of a physician who at times told him to step away from the fray.
So, if he had the decision to make over, would he do it again?
“No, I would never do this again,” he replied. “That isn’t saying the cause isn’t worth fighting for. I’m saying that I personally could not do it.”
Mutty also regrets, in retrospect, welcoming in the documentarians — although he has no complaints about what he’s seen so far.
He allowed the filming, he said, because he agreed with Fox’s position that “this is a historic moment that needs to be recorded … I thought that was the greater good.”
So why regret it now?
“It makes me very vulnerable,” he replied. “What impact it will have on my professional life remains to be seen.”
Of course, difficult as his life might become in the days ahead, this isn’t all about Mutty.
What about the hundreds of Maine couples who might be legally married right now had some 33,000 Mainers — out of almost 570,000 who turned out — voted the other way?
Connolly, the No on 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign manager, said last week that the “kids-in-school issue was a central part of our opposition’s messaging.”
“We tried to push back on them and tried to show the facts,” Connolly said. “But apparently the facts weren’t good enough.”
Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, said her first reaction to the movie trailer is “at least Marc Mutty is the only person who is willing to be honest” about how the “Yes on 1” campaign was run.
But at the same time, she said, “it’s disappointing, it’s discouraging to hear that this is indeed how they operated.”
Smith said there’s no way to know whether the vote might have gone the other way had the “Yes on 1” crowd kept the debate out of the schools — where it never belonged in the first place.
Still, she said, “sometimes you want to believe that at least they believed in what they were saying. You want to believe that they feel so passionately about religion and tradition that the things they put out there, they believe, are true.”
“It’s striking to hear them say ‘No, we knew all along that wasn’t true,’ ” Smith said. ” ‘We were just hitting people over the head with a two-by-four with nails because that’s the only option we had.’ “
Chalk it up to the never-ending battle between unfounded fear and the unvarnished truth.
It’s coming soon to a theater near you.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: