Deeply embedding itself in campaigns on both sides of a 2009 Maine referendum on gay marriage, Joe Fox and James Nubile’s “Question One” focuses on selected members of each group, catching them at work, at home and in church, fighting for values each side holds dear. Oddly, both factions feel marginalized by mainstream society, though one seeks inclusion while the other seeks to exclude. Of particular interest to gay-rights activists and their adversaries, this “War Room”-like but extremely civil docu seems best suited to community venues and the smallscreen.
In May 2009, Maine Gov. John Baldacci, supported by the legislature, granted same-sex couples the right to marry. Almost immediately, the Catholic Church and other opponents gathered petitions demanding a referendum on the matter, a “Yes” vote confusingly indicating rejection of gay marriage and a “No” translating as support. The docu’s undisputed central figure is the designated chief of the “Yes” band, Marc Mutty, a public-affairs manager for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. He is given this unwelcome assignment by his bishop, and expresses his alienation from the beginning of the campaign, unwilling to be portrayed as “the star bigot of Maine.”
Soon the Church turns to PR maven Frank Schubert, who deploys the same scare tactics he used to promote California’s similar Prop. 8, running ads warning of homosexual sex education in kindergarten. Mutty realizes he has no hope of promoting a less radical position, knowing that a fair campaign would almost inevitably end in defeat. Unsuccessfully trying to convince himself that the end justifies the means, he declaims, “This has been a fucking son of a bitch! I hate it!” Adding insult to injury, Schubert hides behind Mutty when the decision remains in doubt, maintaining the illusion of a grassroots campaign when in fact all marching orders flow from his California firm.
Fox and Nubile also focus on one of the “No” leaders, a gray-haired lesbian who apparently holds no animus toward the “Yes” side, despite enormous emotional investment in the outcome. Highlighted “no” foot soldiers include a middle-aged female couple with an adopted daughter and several stepchildren, who would dearly love to legalize their union. On the “Yes” side, the filmmakers also follow a cheerful middle-aged mother and tireless church worker who fears her blessed, stable world is changing beyond recognition and even beyond salvation.
The pic arguably shows some pro-gay marriage bias in subtle ways. While clearly emphasizing the Church’s stake in the battle (collection plates contain envelopes earmarked for the “Yes” campaign), the docu fails to explore the “No” party’s allegedly richer coffers. But nowadays, when the very notion of impartiality seems quixotic at best, few issue-driven docus even pay lip service to the other side. Fox and Nubile’s observational fly-on-the-wall approach (to adopt the name of their production company) proves relatively objective.