March 4, 2010

Real Mainers step up for 'No on 1' ads

— Go to the Web site of Stand for Marriage Maine (www.standformarriagemaine.com) and right at the top you'll see a young heterosexual family -- smiling Mom and Dad with two carefree kids piggybacked on their shoulders -- presumably hand-picked from the multitudes of Mainers who are working to overturn the state law legalizing same-sex marriage.

Now go to www.monkeybusinessimages.com, an online store for ''stock photography.'' Now type ''couple giving two young children piggyback rides smiling'' into the search box.

Voila! There they are again! The same happy family from who knows where?

OK, so it's hardly the first time a political campaign has used clip art as a shortcut for dressing up its home page. But, as the same-sex marriage campaign enters its crucial final month, the Piggyback Family illustrates one very noticeable difference between those defending same-sex marriage in Maine and those trying to abolish it.

The anti-repeal ''No on 1'' campaign overflows with real Mainers who are willing -- no, make that eager -- to go public in their support of equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.

And the pro-repeal ''Yes on 1'' campaign? Not so much.

Since it took to the airwaves a month or so ago, Stand for Marriage Maine has attached four -- and only four -- faces to its televised ad campaign. And of those four, only one person is actually from Maine.

There's Scott Fitzgibbon, the professor from Boston College Law School who touched off a near insurrection on his own campus last month when he warned on camera that Maine's same-sex marriage law would produce a ''flood of lawsuits'' and lead to mandatory teaching of homosexual marriage in Maine's public schools.

Ten days ago, at his request, I e-mailed 10 questions to Fitzgibbon. Among other things, I asked if he has ever lived in Maine or if he's licensed to practice law here. He didn't respond. This week, I nudged him with a follow-up e-mail. Still nothing.

There's Robb and Robin Wirthlin, who in 2003 unsuccessfully sued the Lexington, Mass., school department after their son's teacher read the book, ''King and King,'' to her class. Their on-camera comments make no reference whatsoever to Maine -- in fact, the exact same footage was used last fall to defeat same-sex marriage in California. (Oh, well, at least they believe in recycling.)

Finally, there's Charla Bansley. The ad in which she appears, warning that same-sex marriage will be taught in public schools if Question 1 is defeated, includes the words ''teacher'' and ''Ellsworth'' next to her name.

What the caption doesn't say is that, while Bansley lives in Ellsworth, she doesn't teach in that community's public school system. Rather, she teaches at the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Orrington (where, statute or no statute, the kids aren't likely to hear a word about same-sex marriage any time in this millennium).

Also missing from the Bansley ad is the fact that, when she's not masquerading as a public school teacher, she's president of the Maine chapter of Concerned Women for America -- a faith-based organization whose mission is ''to protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens -- first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society -- thereby reversing the decline in moral values in our nation.''

In short, Bansley is without question a Mainer. But a ''teacher'' in ''Ellsworth'' with a direct interest in what happens (or doesn't happen) in Maine's public schools? You decide.

Contrast all of that with the ''No on 1'' ads now on the air -- proof positive that Maine is as much a ''big small town'' as it is a state.

There's Sarah Franklin of South Portland, whose 45 years as a public school teacher included a couple with my own kids in her class, expressing the anything-but-radical belief that ''schools should be safe havens for children, a place where all children feel welcome, accepted and safe.''

There's Bill Whitten of Yarmouth, whom I got to know a few years back, when he succeeded in having a large American flag erected out on Fort Gorges in Casco Bay. A former Marine who happens to have a lesbian daughter, Whitten says he's come to believe that we should judge people ''not by what they are, but by who they are.''

There's Gillian Britt of Cape Elizabeth, with whom I serve on a volunteer board. She, her husband and kids are among the many real Maine families who appear in ''No on 1'' ads with their names and hometowns attached.

Getting those folks and many others like them to appear on television was, according to ''No on 1'' campaign manager Jesse Connolly, ''the easiest TV campaign shoot I've ever been part of.''

''We can't fit all of the people on the screen who want to be in our paid advertising,'' said Connolly.

Conversely, I called Stand for Marriage Maine on Thursday to ask about the dearth of Maine people in its advertising.

I also wanted to ask why the most recent event listed on its Web site was a Sept. 13 rally in Augusta that was closed to the media. And why, as the ''No on 1'' campaign rolls out educators supporting same-sex marriage one day and religious leaders supporting same-sex marriage the next, we get no competing press conferences from the ''Yes on 1'' crowd.

They never called back.

(Stand for Maine Marriage campaign manager Marc Mutty did go on WGME -TV Wednesday evening to complain, for the umpteenth time, that his side lives in constant fear of being labeled ''haters'' and ''bigots.'' They also find it ''distressing'' that someone recently messed with their mail and swiped the flowers outside their headquarters in Yarmouth.)

There is, of course, another month to go before this thing goes to the polls. And we have yet to see the fruits of the ''casting call'' put out in late August by Stand for Marriage Maine for a ''teacher type'' and a ''working waitress type'' who would spend three days -- and make $500 a day -- taping an ad against same-sex marriage.

But, if you're among the treasured 5 percent or so of Maine voters who are still undecided on Question 1, now might be a good time to take note that only one side is backing up its message with real names and real faces of real Mainers.

Not Mr. and Mrs. Piggyback.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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