AUGUSTA – Matt and Megan Hutson fell in love with Maine earlier this year while working for Bruce Poliquin during the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

When they had the chance to come back this fall to work for Protect Marriage Maine, they jumped at it.

“I’m very selective in who I want to work with,” said Matt, 32, who has worked on candidate campaigns across the country. “If the candidate or issue doesn’t line up with what I personally believe in, I can’t be the guy. My conscience wants me to work for people I philosophically and morally agree with on the issues. And then you have the added benefit that it’s Maine.”

The Hutsons and their counterparts at Mainers United For Marriage are part of a small group of key staff members on both sides of the Nov. 6 same-sex marriage referendum.

Most of them will be anonymous, operating behind the scenes. But they’ll play influential roles in shaping strategy and managing the day-to-day execution of a battle that will draw national attention and millions of dollars in contributions on both sides of the issue.

Matt Hutson was recently named campaign director for Protect Marriage Maine, the leading opponents to same-sex marriage. His wife, Megan, 22, serves as grass-roots coordinator.

They are two members of a six-person team primarily responsible for the campaign. Others working with them include Frank Schubert and Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, and Carroll Conley and Bob Emrich of the Christian Civic League of Maine.

On the other side, Matt McTighe, campaign director for Mainers United for Marriage, gets direction from an executive committee. Assisting him are several key staffers, including the Rev. Sue Gabrielson, as director of faith outreach, and Beth Allen, regional field director in Bangor.

While they represent opposite sides of the issue, all those involved with the campaigns have interesting personal stories to tell.

THE OPPOSITION

Megan and Matt Hutson

Reaching the voters

Megan Hutson, 22, was born and raised in southern Louisiana and was home-schooled. As part of that experience, she worked on dozens of campaigns growing up, from local races all the way up to governor.

She attended Louisiana College and Louisiana Baptist University, where she studied communications. She founded her own photography business at age 18 and enjoys taking photos of families and children.

Megan met Matt when he was working on a congressional race in Louisiana. They married in Louisiana in December.

“Being married eight months ago, obviously we value marriage and believe it’s important,” she said. “We realize it’s kind of under attack right now, and we wanted to stand up for it. And we love Maine.”

Matt Hutson, 32, grew up in Oklahoma and is a 2003 graduate of Oklahoma State University. He’s worked on congressional races in Maryland, Louisiana, Ohio and New York. He was statewide director for the campaign of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and managed Poliquin’s campaign earlier this year. Poliquin finished second in a six-candidate field.

Matt’s father was a laborer and his mother was a public school teacher. He learned his work ethic from his father, but realized early on that he wanted to complete his education so he would have a different career path.

As campaign director, Hutson is focused on making sure everyone in the office is on the same page and that voters all hear a consistent message. For the newlyweds, marriage has made them a team, both professionally and personally. They hope to start a family someday.

“With Matt and I, we have our calling in life, we want to work together,” she said. “We both feel like we’re making a change in the same direction.”

Bob Emrich

Second time around

Emrich, 61, is one of the few holdovers from the statewide 2009 campaign to repeal gay marriage legislation. Back then, he worked closely with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. Now, he’s working closely with Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine.

Emrich, chairman of the civic league board, is a Baptist minister in Plymouth who leads a mission to Uganda twice a year. While there, they do medical work, help build schools and drill wells, and train local pastors. He also does some part-time work for the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group, speaking to churches and pastors about how to effectively engage in public policy.

Emrich is a self-described “farm kid” from Oregon, who never attended church as a child. He became a Christian in college and moved east when he decided to attend the New Brunswick Bible Institute.

In the 1980s, he spent time developing a youth program at a Machias church and later became pastor of a church in Aroostook County.

He then earned a degree in education and history from the University of Maine and spent nine years teaching social studies in Guilford. In 1993, he filled in one Sunday at his current church — Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church — and eventually took over as full-time pastor.

Emrich joined the civic league board when Conley took over the group in 2009. Both men have tried to soften the tone of the group, and say they want to work on issues such as domestic violence, education and drug and alcohol abuse when the campaign is over.

As in 2009, Schubert, a Minneapolis consultant who has since formed his own public policy group and works for the National Organization for Marriage, will play a large role in helping to direct the campaign, Emrich said.

“He’s going to be very involved,” Emrich said. “That’s what we’ve hired Frank Schubert for, the overall strategy.”

Carroll Conley

Setting the tone

Conley was born in Dover-Foxcroft, the son of well-known eastern Maine high school basketball coach Carroll Conley.

Conley went to Pensacola Christian College in Florida, where he graduated in 1981 with a degree in secondary education. He met his wife, Terri, on the first day of school and after college, they worked at a small private school in Norton, Mass.

In 1992, when their sons were 10 and 8, they moved to Maine where he took a job as headmaster at Bangor Christian School, his alma mater.

In 2000, he took a job as head of the music ministry at Bangor Baptist Church, the sponsoring church for the Christian school. He expanded the music offerings “from Rachmaninoff to reggae,” which helped the church grow.

He took a sabbatical in 2008 to help a struggling school in Massachusetts and when he returned, spent a year as development director at Bangor Christian.

Then in 2009, his cellphone rang while he was on the top of Mount Katahdin, and he received an offer to take over the Christian Civic League. Longtime director Michael Heath had resigned, and Conley said he would come on board only if Emrich were involved as well.

He wanted to change the league and its approach to issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

“Through studying the Scriptures, I just came across the passages where God said to his people, ‘You’re checking off all the boxes, you’re doing all the rituals, but you’re not feeding the poor, you’re not taking care of the widows, you’re not reflecting my heart,'” he said. “I thought in many cases the (civic league) had reached out into the public policy arena without having first established a platform of compassion and respect.”

While evangelicals and others always agreed with the league’s opposition to same-sex marriage, Conley is hoping now to win more hearts and minds with a kinder, gentler message.

“Marriage is to me the ideal environment to raise children,” he said. “When we talk about the redefinition of marriage, there is a move that happened many years ago that it’s simply about a romantic notion. While that certainly is part of marriage, I believe the lack of emphasis on the potential to raise children is very key. From a faith perspective, we believe marriage is a covenant between a man and a wife.”

THE SUPPORTERS

Matt McTighe

The quarterback

McTighe, 33, comes from a large Irish Catholic family in Connecticut.

The youngest of six children, McTighe graduated from George Washington University in 2000 with a degree in journalism. He worked for CBS News as part of the political team, then went to work on Capitol Hill for a moderate Republican, U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut.

“I caught the political bug early and just became one of the transient campaign types that go from campaign to campaign to campaign all over the country,” he said.

He got involved in gay marriage issues in 2004 when there was talk in Washington of a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. He was hired by the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy organization, to lobby Congress on the issue, primarily because he had worked for a Republican in the House.

McTighe, who now lives in York, has three brothers and two sisters. He came out to his parents, who are devout Catholics, at age 18, and his father struggled at first.

“But you played hockey,” McTighe recalls his father saying. “You’ve had girlfriends.”

When McTighe began bringing his partner home, his parents began to understand that their relationship was no different than those of his other siblings, he said.

Once he settled in Maine, McTighe walked in to the local fire station and asked what he needed to do to join their ranks. He completed his training, then began to get to know the other firefighters at the station. Gradually, he let them know he is gay. In 2011, he was named York Firefighter of the Year.

“They are extremely supportive,” he said. “It is the tightest brotherhood you can imagine, as close as family. Nobody so much as batted an eyelash. They were 100 percent supportive.”

The Rev. Sue Gabrielson

Organizing the faithful

The Rev. Sue Gabrielson has been parish minister at Sanford Unitarian Universalist Church since August 2003, and in February, became faith director as part of the campaign to win same-sex marriage.

“Reaching out and relationship-building has been amazing,” she said. “I thought it would be a lot harder than it has been.”

Gabrielson, 44, is dealing with 100 congregations as part of the campaign, working to keep them involved in making phone calls, training volunteers to talk to others about same-sex marriage and showing a film that helps them with those conversations.

“In 2009, we didn’t do a good job paying attention to people of faith,” she said.

As one of three faith directors working on the campaign this time around, she’s focused on letting people know that the referendum would allow churches to choose whether to perform same-sex marriages, but it will not require them to perform them. While Unitarian Universalists have conducted same-sex unions for 25 years, she understands that not all denominations will be supportive if voters pass the ballot measure.

Gabrielson is a native of Salem, Mass., and is a 1989 graduate of the University of Vermont. She spent four years as a police officer in Massachusetts and later earned her master of divinity degree from Andover Newton Theological School in 2003.

She’s lived in Maine for 10 years and has been married to her second husband for 18 months. They have two daughters, ages 8 and 13.

She said her 13-year-old can’t understand why it’s necessary for her to work on the same-sex marriage issue.

“They’ve grown up in a different world,” she said. “It’s a non-issue for them.”

Beth Allen

A focus on conversations

Beth Allen, 32, serves as deputy regional field director for Mainers United and is focused on the more rural parts of Maine, including Washington and Hancock counties.

A native of Eliot, she moved to Southwest Harbor after high school and has now settled in Fletchers Landing Township, just outside Ellsworth, with her partner, Valerie Frey, and their two daughters, ages 8 and nearly 2.

“My partner and I have been together six years, and we’d really like to get married in Maine,” she said.

In 2009, she took a sabbatical from her job at KidsPeace, a private charity that helps children with mental and behavioral health issues, to volunteer in the final month of the campaign to defeat an effort to repeal gay marriage legislation. Back then, they focused mostly on getting supporters out to vote, but there wasn’t a major effort to change minds, she said.

“It felt wrong to me to not have a conversation with them about why my family mattered,” she said.

When she heard the approach would be different this time around, and that she would be encouraged to have one-on-one conversations, she took a job with EqualityMaine 18 months ago.

The 1997 Marshwood High School graduate now travels to rural parts of Maine to help volunteers get organized, and she continues to talk to voters, even those who oppose the question.

“There are certainly times when conversations become a little uncomfortable,” she said. “There are certainly days when I go home and need an ice cream.”

MaineToday Media Staff Writer Susan Cover can be contacted 621-5643 or at:

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