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.”
Now keep in mind that this guy was being paid to counsel high school students — gay, straight, you name it. And that, as a licensed social worker, he was bound by a code of ethics requiring that he “not practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate in any form of discrimination” involving sexual orientation.
Invoking that professional code just before the 2009 referendum, two other Maine social workers filed complaints against Mendell with the Maine Office of Licensing and Registration. Both complaints were dismissed for lack of evidence.
Meaning Mendell won. Meaning the system worked, to his benefit, exactly as it’s supposed to work.
Yet now Mendell is back, in a 30-second TV ad that promises “consequences for Mainers” if Question 1 passes on Nov. 6.
“When gay marriage has become law elsewhere,” warns the narrator, “people who disagree with it have been fired, sued, fined and punished.”
One problem: Maine didn’t have a same-sex marriage law in effect when the complaint against Mendell was filed, so the ad’s premise makes about as much sense as Mendell’s fear of petri dishes and “livestock-wise” procreation.
One more problem: Mendell has never, ever, been fired, sued, fined or punished for anything. In fact, he retired from Nokomis Regional High in the spring without so much as a blemish on his professional license.
So much for “consequences.”
Finally, meet Damian Goddard, a former sportscaster for SportsNet in Canada who claims he was fired after he tweeted support for a sports agent who “spoke out in favor of traditional marriage.”
SportsNet, for the record, says it actually had decided to part ways with Goddard before the tweets and will be happy to share its reasons for doing so should the case end up in court.
Meanwhile, Schubert has ushered Goddard across an international boundary and into our living rooms, topping off his 15-second saga with “Don’t let this happen in Maine.”
Now I’ll be the first to admit there are plenty of things to lie awake worrying about between now and Nov. 6. But an ongoing employer-employee spat that happened in another country?
Hey, like all the others crafted to inflame rather than inform, that’s Frank Schubert’s kind of story.
So short on facts it’s scary.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: