October 24, 2012

Bill Nemitz: For enemy of gay marriage, untruths best told quickly

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com

Frank Schubert likes to tell stories.

Really, really short stories.

Stories so short they can scare the bejesus out of you before you even know what they're actually about.

Schubert, you'll recall, is the California schemer who choreographed the repeal of Maine's same-sex marriage statute in 2009. Now he's back, leading the National Organization for Marriage's offensive against same-sex marriage in referendum campaigns in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.

Schubert's strategy of choice? Take a complicated story and, in 30 seconds or less, reduce it to televised graffiti.

Let's begin with "They Sued Us" -- a 15-second spot featuring Jim and Mary O'Reilly, owners of the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville, Vt.

(Full disclosure: In an odd twist of fate, I went to high school with Mary O'Reilly's older brother, with whom I remain the closest of friends to this day.)

Claims Jim O'Reilly in the ad, "A lesbian couple sued us for not supporting their gay wedding because of our Christian beliefs. We had to pay $30,000 and can no longer host any weddings at our inn."

Warns the narrator just before the fade to black, "Vote no on Question 1 to avoid this in Maine."

A lesbian couple did sue the O'Reillys in 2010, and with good reason: An event planner who worked for the Wildflower Inn told the couple they could not book a "gay reception" there because of what she called the O'Reillys' "personal feelings" against same-sex marriage.

Big mistake: By turning the couple away, the inn violated Vermont's Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, which since 1992 has banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in offering "services, facilities ... or accommodations" to the public.

In other words, it wasn't Vermont's 2009 same-sex marriage law that snagged the O'Reillys. It was a 20-year-old anti-discrimination law not unlike the Maine Human Rights Act, which would apply -- with or without a same-sex marriage statute -- if the same thing happened here today.

O'Reilly's other claims -- that he and his wife "had to pay $30,000 and can no longer host any weddings at our inn" -- also suffer from too much headline and not enough story.

According to a timeline published by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which provided legal representation to the Wildflower Inn, the O'Reillys got out of the wedding business after their wedding planner quit in the spring of 2011 -- two months before the lesbians' lawsuit was filed.

"Lacking the resources to continue events without an event coordinator, Jim and Mary decide to stop hosting events," says the timeline.

Note the word "decide." Rather than simply hire a new planner and amend their weddings policy to conform with state law, the O'Reillys opted, with no government involvement whatsoever, to exit the events business.

And what about the $30,000?

That was part of a settlement signed by the O'Reillys in August -- $20,000 went to a charitable trust to be administered by the lesbian couple, while $10,000 was a civil penalty payable to the Vermont Human Rights Commission.

Bottom line: The O'Reillys didn't "have to" pay the $30,000. After mediated negotiations with the plaintiffs, they voluntarily agreed to pay it. End of story.

Next up we have Schubert's reprise of The Don Mendell Story.

Remember Mendell? He's the former counselor at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport who took to the airways in 2009 with the spurious claim that Maine's same-sex marriage law would lead to "homosexual marriage being pushed on Maine students."

Around the same time, Mendell fretted to the documentary filmmaker Joe Fox that same-sex marriage would mean "children being created in petri dishes and put livestock-wise into people who will never get to know who their father was."

(Continued on page 2)

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