Thomas Peters, NOM’s communications director, shows us the limits of empathy.
Peters suffered a diving accident that left him with a fractured fifth vertebrae, a severe spinal cord injury, and doubtful prospects for recovery. Fortunately, it seems, he’s doing better than most with this kind of injury, though he still may never walk and has limited use of his upper body. Recently, on NOM’s website, he posted “Reflections on my Time Away.”
It’s a sad read, and not just because of his trauma. I had hoped for a moment that it might be inspirational. I thought of Republican Senator Mark Kirk, who had a stroke in January 2012. A year later he was able to climb the steps of the Capitol, and a few months after that he issued this statement:
Thomas Peters has experienced no such epiphany, which makes it bittersweet for a gay man like me to read his moving tribute to family:
That’s hard to read, because even as you’re thinking, Exactly, exactly!, you also know Peters is still determined to deny you the right to marry, deprive you of the honor and and hope and inspiration that come with it:
Mark Kirk’s stroke left him with greater empathy and the courage to act on it. It didn’t merely deepen that empathy — it broadened it, too, extending it to a greater chunk of humanity than it had previously known. When the senator calls his stroke “a gift from God,” we can understand what he means, even as we’re daunted by the great price of that gift.
But not so for Peters. His empathy extends only to those who are like him. He sees his family and friends and supporters as people, but gays and lesbians are only abstractions. He can’t conceive of us as actual human beings gifted with marriages that we experience in just the same way that he does with his wife. If he did, he could never come back determined to destroy them.
For Mark Kirk, faith and tragedy gave him a light to see more of humanity. For Peters, a self-described “American Papist,” they led him into the legalism and strictures of his religion. They led him away from humanity.
What might it be like for Peters to follow Mark Kirk’s path? I see a clue in NOM’s blog posts. They refer to the Senator, but do not mention his stroke or the reasons for his change of heart. They simply call him a “GOP turncoat.” His actual life and experience are irrelevant. For them he’s defined simply by his betrayal of their doctrine.
This, I think, is what happens when doctrine overrides humanity, and here I find I butt up against the limits of my own empathy. I’ve never gone through a trauma as terrible as what Peters is dealing with now, and I can only struggle to imagine how it would feel. I don’t know how I would cope, what refuge I would take, what comforts I would seek. I suppose I can see why Peters would shy away from being labeled a turncoat by those he depends on the most.
Simply put, I can’t fault him for falling back on what he knows. All I can do, then, is congratulate him on what he’s accomplished so far, wish him strength in his battle ahead, and hope that recovery of the body is matched by growth in spirit and soul.
Maggie has finally weighed in on New Jersey’s law banning reparative therapy. She’s been holding off: “I will read the bill Chris Christie signed carefully before I issue any statement, if I do.”
Apparently Maggie didn’t read it carefully enough. She now says:
Maggie’s careful reading was actually quite sloppy. I guess she’s alarmed by this part of the bill’s wording:
If Maggie stopped reading there, then it might have sounded like a ban on chastity counseling. But if she’d kept going she’d have read section 2.b. in full:
In other words, therapists are allowed to try and change patients’ behaviors (gay or straight), as long as they don’t try to change patients’ sexual orientation (gay or straight). Christie has in no way “outright banned chastity as a goal of counseling.”
I can’t say that Maggie is deliberately lying. The bill’s structure is a bit confusing. Really, though, Maggie’s paid to get these things right. But she didn’t, so get ready to hear this grievously wrong talking point again and again.
Stop for a moment and note your reaction to this entry’s headline. Specifically:
1. What was your first thought about what it meant — your first interpretation?
2. What your immediate feeling, your gut response, to that interpretation?
3. How do you feel about the person saying it?
Note those things. We’ll come back to them later.
That headline is a quote from a new strategy document for opposing same-sex marriage (short version here). That quote is offered as a good thing for our opponents to say in public. That quote, to me at least, is a good example of why our opponents are doomed to fail.
The John Jay Institute issued this strategy document, and it’s worth reading:
Basically, it’s built on the growing mounds of evidence that people don’t reason their way to conclusions, especially on complex moral issues. Conclusions come from the gut, and reason is an afterthought, a tool used to support decisions we’ve already made. This is a human tendency, one that cuts across political, economic, and cultural lines.
That makes the John Jay paper a leap in our opponents’ sophistication. Its recommendations are likely to start popping up in their communications. The paper deserves an in-depth analysis, but for now I want to focus on this one horrendous bit of it, because it illustrates just how tone-deaf our opponents are, and how difficult it is for them to put science into practice.
The headline comes from a section on how to use metaphor in the marriage debate. They claim that one of our metaphors is “A HOMOSEXUAL COUPLE IS A HETEROSEXUAL COUPLE.” (All these caps are from the original, sorry.) Or, as our side phrases it (infinitely better): Same love. A same-sex committed relationship deserves the same status as one involving opposite-sexers.
The John Jay paper says the way to undermine our metaphor (I’m not sure they know what a metaphor is) is to focus on ”the ability of husbands and wives to contribute to the common good through the creation and perpetuation of family.” In other words, it’s not the same love, because we can’t have kids.
It’s hard for me to let that pass (same-sex couples can’t create and perpetuate families?), but let me leapfrog it to get to what’s even worse. The John Jay folks anticipate we”ll rebut them by pointing out that society allows infertile opposite sex couples to wed — and here’s the John Jay comeback to that:
They go on to give a reasoned explanation of the metaphor, but keep in mind that a reasoned explanation is not the point. The point is to reach people in a quick, gut-level way. So let me share my gut-level responses.
1. The metaphor says that an infertile marriage is a failure, pointless, unlikely to survive and probably not worth saving anyway.
2, My gut-level reaction is astonishment and contempt that someone could be so callous and blind to the value of committed couples who can’t birth children.
3. My feeling about the person saying this thing is that they’re, well, callous and blind. My reaction is that I don’t want to be on their side.
But here’s how John Jay describes the metaphor:
Wow. All that mumbo jumbo about “an infertile couple still endorses the ideal” is just wishful thinking. It’s pathetically easy to refute. But did you catch that word in the middle: “fails”? If you’re trying to reach people on an emotional level, this notion that AN INFERTILE MARRIAGE IS A PROFITLESS COMPANY is so heartless and offensive that people won’t even stay around to listen to your oh-so-nuanced explanation of what you really meant. And if even if they do listen to it, then their reasoning — based on the notion that reason is generally used to justify our emotional response — will rush to the cause of rejecting it completely.
This John Jay paper lays the groundwork for what our opponents will be doing next. We should be prepared for that. Luckily we’re in the right, in the most human, empathetic, compassionate way, so it won’t be hard for us to dissect that strategy and develop effective responses.
Let’s take the next week or two and do that. I’ll put up a series of posts, and fair warning: if you get ahead of me in the comments then I will steal your ideas without remorse.
This could be fun.
Our victories at the Supreme Court came over a month ago and I’m still waiting for the backlash.
The National Organization for Marriage is obviously hoping for one, and they’ve reported gleefully on France’s violent riots — sorry, inspiring demonstrations — against marriage equality. But nothing like that has happened here. And today we get this graph from Gallup:
It wouldn’t be quite right to say support for marriage equality has increased since the decision, or the opposition has diminished. The poll’s margin of error don’t grant us that much certainty. But there sure isn’t any sign of a backlash.
In Pennsylvania, as you may know, County Clerk Bruce Hanes has issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Here’s the reaction from NOM, called The Lawlessness of Gay Marriage Activists is on Full Display:
The irony is so bright it burns my eyes. NOM has built fundraising efforts on the notion that Town Clerks in New York have the right to “pick and choose which laws to enforce” and to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as an exercise of their religious freedom.
NOM’s hypocrisy will surprise only those who haven’t been paying attention. But what about our own hypocrisy when we denounce the New York Town Clerks while praising Montgomery County’s Bruce Hanes? Is there a difference?
I think there is.
Civil disobedience has a long and proud history in the US. In its best form, though, it’s not a mere refusal to obey a law. It involves a person publicly breaking an unjust law and accepting the consequences precisely in order to force an examination of that law in the public eye, and if necessary, in court. This is not “lawlessness.” It’s a deliberate attempt to invoke our legal system.
That’s happening right now in Montgomery County. It’s not quite what happened in New York with those Town Clerks. They didn’t do anything to force a re-examination of marriage equality. In fact, they were willing to direct same-sex applicants to other Clerks. Unlike Bruce Hanes, they did not say the marriage equality law was invalid; they merely claimed that they personally did not have to obey it.
Now, that’s lawlessness.
Perhaps this isn’t entirely fair. Those Clerks might say they weren’t protesting marriage equality per se, but the laws that force them to sign documents for marriages they personally deem invalid. It’s hard to believe their sincerity, though. They’d have to argue that religious freedom means that government officials can demand you pass their personal religious test before they’ll help you, and that, of course, is the opposite of religious freedom.
I see another difference between New York and Montgomery County, though: Civil disobedience doesn’t usually involve someone using their power to victimize citizens. Civil disobedience doesn’t much involve victims at all — the lack of victims is a sign that the law being disobeyed is unjust! It’s easy to identify by name the victims of the New York Town Clerks. The victims in Montgomery County, not so much.
Before I close, I want to point out something NOM founder Robert George published two days ago on the question of religious freedom:
Robert George, fierce opponent of marriage equality, goes on to identify those standards:
As I said above: The irony is so bright it burns.
NOM’s communications director Thomas Peters has been in a serious accident:
I’ve tangled with him before and have been sharply critical of him, but today I wish him my best and send him all my hopes for a full and speedy recovery.
Yesterday someone messaged me a most perfect description of our opponents.
He and I had been tangling with NOM’s Jennifer Roback Morse on an anti-gay website, pointing out the error of using a tragic case of child abuse as an argument against same-sex marriage. Morse, on her Facebook page, claimed we were defending the abusers — “a couple of pro-gay guys circling the wagons around these creeps,” is how she put it.
It’s enough to make you wonder where she learned to read. I alerted my compatriot and he wrote back this description of Morse and her allies on that site:
Read that again, just for the pleasure of it:
I say that’s a perfect phrase.
It’s fluid, looks good on the page, trips off the tongue, and rewards you with deeper insight the longer you contemplate it. I’m holding on to it, and whenever I encounter a cluster of people swapping statements with no apparent connection to reality, instead of feeling baffled I’ll think: Yes! — they’re engaged in a conspiracy to take each other seriously.
“Jennifer Thieme is the Director of Finance for the Ruth Institute, a project of the National Organization for Marriage Education Fund.”
That’s according to the Ruth Institute’s website. Jennifer is frustrated with libertarians who support same-sex marriage, and especially those who think the government should get out of marriage altogether. Her arguments are so astounding that I cannot understand them. I can only be entertained by them. For instance:
That was like a tour through an Escher drawing. Here’s another bit:
That was akin to a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, shouting TA DA!, only to find nothing there, and looking so deep into the hat that she falls in and disappears.
But my favorite is this:
On second thought, I only like the last one because I can at least follow the faulty reasoning. The first two, though, are such marvels of non sequitur, and offered with such conviction, that it seems they must exist on some surreal plane parallel to our own.
I can’t refute those first two quotes because I can’t analyze them; all I can do is stare at them like hypnotic sparkly lights. So enjoy. And if part of your pleasure is schadenfreude at the sight of our opponents reduced to a bubbly, assertive incoherence, I won’t judge you.
This may ramble a bit, and I’m sorry, but I was enraged yesterday — not annoyed, disgusted, or weary, but full-on enraged — and I need to vent it out.
The National Organization for Marriage is promoting the idea that same-sex marriage provides the best possible cover for pedophiles and opens the door to the “new” possibility of creating children expressly for the purpose of being abused.
As loathsome as that is, it’s not what enraged me. Before continuing, though, let me warn you that this posting discusses child sexual abuse and human trafficking.
This is foul and disgusting. How can it not break your heart. But the artitcle’s author, Michael Cook, somehow managed to look past the horror and see it as an opportunity to attack same-sex marriage:
Perhaps Michael Cook is primarily concerned with children, but his anti-gay bigotry is so strong that it overwhelms his ability to think these issues through. Or perhaps when he read the case his first thought was, “Hey, I can get a column out of this!”
Do you see why I call our opponents desperate? This opportunism in the face of a child’s tragedy isn’t just disgusting — it’s fakery as well, which can pass for truth only if you ignore basic, verifiable facts.
First, most abused children are victims of a man in a heterosexual relationship with a relative of the child, a relationship that grants access more easily than the rigors of adoption or surrogacy. This is the best cover for pedophiles. This is what gets ignored when you demonize gay men in committed relationships.
Michael Cook must realize that presenting one horrific case does not establish a trend or persistent danger. So he works hard to link it to something broader, and that’s what makes his article so outrageous. In the article’s comments I responded:
I was immediately attacked for making “no mention of the evil crime committed against a defenseless child.” Which of course is untrue. A stronger rebuttal came from another source:
While the notion that you can never prove a negative is nonsense, he’s correct to say I’ve set Michael Cook an impossible task when I ask him to prove no child had before been created for the purpose of abuse, if only because we can’t account for every child ever born.
All this means, though, is that Michael Cook is basing his entire article on an assertion that cannot be proven. How much more damning can you get? Well, a little more damning, as it turns out.
This led Cook’s defender and me into an argument over burden of proof (Does Cook need to prove that this is “new”? Do I need to prove that it’s not?).
But all that was moot when it became clear that children have been created for this purpose. First, I found cases like (WARNING: YOU MAY WANT TO SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH): Steven Deuman Jr, who orally raped his 3-month-old daughter to death; a man from Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire, who filmed himself raping his baby daughter; and Danny Friddle who began videotaping himself raping his daughter starting the day she was born. Do we know these men created children expressly to abuse them? I can only say that we have the same evidence that we have for the monsters in Cook’s article: that the abuse began almost immediately after birth.
Then one of our regular readers, “Spunky,” offered a solid link to stories of child exploitation and sex trafficking, which sent me off on a whole new bout of research, which led me to something blindingly obvious.
Children born into slavery become slaves. And slavery isn’t dead, of course. We simply call it by a new name: human trafficking. If you’d like to research this, use the terms “human trafficking” and “intergenerational prostitution.” But be careful. The stories you’ll encounter are what sent me from heated intellectual dispute into actual rage. I added this comment to the article:
At this point, NOM’s Jennifer Roback Morse entered the fray — which was appropriate, since it through her NOM site that I found the article. She entirely missed the point:
Actually, Dr. Morse does herself no credit when she sets up a straw man like this. Of course Michael Cook is opposed to human trafficking — at least, I’d certainly been assuming so. But that simply reinforces my point: Our opponents are desperate. So desperate that they’ll ignore what they know is true; throw out unprovable, easily disproven statements; and blind themselves to great moral evil — as long as it allows them to mount a sad, gasping, despicable attack against us.