Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Maine's Marriage Equality Battle Heats Up Over New Opposition Ad Featuring Activist Teacher and Mormon Couple

UPDATE: Maine's Public Broadcasting Network: "Critics Question Yes on One Ad Claims"

The pro-marriage equality NO on 1 campaign quickly responded to the new, copy-and-paste Yes on 1 ad, lifted directly from a Yes on Prop 8. It featured Charla Bansley as a concerned teacher; it turns out however, that Charla has been in their ranks for some time, actively involved in fighting marriage equality and doesn't even teach at a public school.

From the NO on 1 campaign:

NO on 1 Attacks False Political Ad That Highlights Activist
Reminds Voters of Legal and Editorial Rejection of Claims

The NO on 1 campaign today charged that the new political ad opposing Maine's equality law not only restates a claim that educators, lawyers and Maine newspapers have rejected as false and misleading, but uses an activist to portray the role of a public school teacher. The NO on 1 campaign also noted that the political ad is an exact replica of the $2 million ad campaign launched to pass Proposition 8 in California last fall.

The teacher in the latest Maine ad is, in fact, the state director of Concerned Women for America. In addition, Charla Bansley the featured and identified "Ellsworth teacher" does not teach in the public schools, but in a private, Christian school, the Calvary Chapel Christian School.

Bansley has a long history of activism from opposing stem cell research to characterizing marriage equality supporters as "forces of evil." She has also opposed diversity training, tolerance classes and anti-harassment programs in the Maine schools, and has been a featured spokesperson in anti-marriage events, including the recent closed rally with national spokespeople this month in the Augusta Civic Center.

"Concerned Women for America has long opposed any measure of fairness or decency when it comes to gay and lesbian Americans," said Jesse Connolly, NO on 1's campaign manager. "They oppose anti-bullying measures in schools and diversity training when, in fact, public schools are simply ensuring an environment where all kids can be safe and can thrive.

"These are extreme views in any context and we believe that Maine voters will see through this cast of characters and focus on the real issue of treating all Maine families with dignity and respect," Connolly added.

The NO on 1 campaign noted that the Bangor Daily News and the Lewiston Sun Journal have each editorialized against the false claims that Maine's marriage equality law would impact anything in the public schools.

The Journal wrote on Sept. 18: "Will same sex marriage be taught in schools, if it becomes legal in Maine? No -nothing in law or curriculum mandates any Maine student be taught about marriage, same-sex or otherwise."

Also on Sept. 18, the Bangor Daily News editorialized that ". . .the claim by repeal proponents is that schools would be forced to teach 'gay sex education.' It is baseless and betrays an ignorance about education."

The NO on 1 campaign also refers the press and public to a memorandum explicitly refuting the claims about education issued Sept. 18th and signed by Maine Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, former Maine Attorneys General Steve Rowe and James Tierney, House Chair of Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee Rep. Emily Cain, University of Maine School of Law Dean Peter Pitegoff* and University of Maine School of Law Prof. David P. Cluchey*.

"The fact that the Yes campaign would literally repackage the same ad their California consultants used in California is a testament to the national outsiders pushing their agenda on the voters of Maine," added Connolly. "This is nothing more than a tired national playbook concocted by California political consultants and the national groups that pay their way."
The NO on 1 campaign isn't the only one responding. Maine's Department of Education Communications Director David Connerty-Marin spoke to DirigoBlue in response to the claims of the Wirthlin couple in the new ad, and in more detail in the extended version. They claimed that because Massachusetts legalized marriage equality, homosexuality will be promoted in all subjects in school and referred to the infamous "King and King" children's book. Connerty Marin:
I cannot comment on Massachusetts education law or decisions made by local school districts in Massachusetts. Here in Maine, our Learning Results standards and education regulations make no reference to the teaching of marriage in any way. So a change in Maine's laws or definition of marriage places no requirements on local districts regarding whether or how they teach about marriage. Such curriculum decisions are strictly local. Before or after passage of the gay marriage law a district could choose to teach about marriage or not, and to teach about it in any way it deemed appropriate. It simply is not governed by state education law.
Connerty-Marin added, "The ad is entirely misleading."

So who are Robert and Robin Wirthlin? This post on Know Thy Neighbor, dating back to ruling of the case filed by the Wirthlins against the school their child attended, states, "And the Wirthlins...who are they? A simple google search didn't provide much. Only that the Wirthlin's family is an extremely influential Mormon one which contributed heavily to the establishment of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake AND heralds, Uncle Dick Wirthlin, the GOP pollster who worked for Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party, Governor Mitt Romney, now Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, The Mormon Church, and various anti-gay organizations."

And in more detail:
Someone is bound to make something of the fact that the Wirthlins are devout Mormons, in fact Robb is the namesake grandson of Elder Joseph Wirthlin, an apostle of the church. He is also the grand-nephew of Richard (Dick) Wirthlin, the media-savvy Washington opinion pollster who served Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party, Massachusetts Governor and likely Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the Mormon Church, and had a hand in founding organizations that oppose same sex marriage.
So on top of picking Charla Bansley from within their own ranks, the Yes on 1 campaign recycles Yes on Prop 8 footage of the Wirthlins, devout Mormons with an agenda.

Can they not use real Mainers? Not one has appeared in any of their ads to speak up for their side, while the NO on 1 campaign has used only real residents.

Yet more to the point, is the NO on 1 campaign going to hit back hard? We now need big endorsements from big names. Gov. John Baldacci is a supporter. Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree, Rep. Emily Cain, former Attorney General Steven Rowe, former Attorney General James Tierney, Dean Peter Pitegoff (University of Maine School of Law), and Professor David Cluchey (University of Maine School of Law) signed a memorandum which tore apart the politics of the TV advertisements. The Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians support marriage equality. We also have religious groups such as Catholics for Marriage Equality and the Unitarian Church.

On top of that, despite the fact that we were on the air first, we've let them once again frame the debate, as I knew they would. We need to wrestle back control and expose their lies for what they are - LIES.

We've got voices. We have power. Let's turn it up and win!

Get involved!

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