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When Doctrine Overrides Humanity

Rob Tisinai

November 2nd, 2013

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:

When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others.

Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most.  Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back — government has no place in the middle.

Thomas Peters has experienced no such epiphany, which makes it bittersweet for a gay man like me to read his moving tribute to family:

The accident has taught me the essential value defended by the principle of subsidiarity: the value of family and friends as the first line of defense when things go badly. My family and friends have come forward to help my wife and I in ways that have taken our breadth away. They brought us meals, helped pack and move our home, loaned us their cars, contributed their professional advice like how to plan our financial future and cover medical expenses, they have organized prayer groups for us, designed wristbands to help remind people to pray for us and offered us gifts so generous I have had to firmly say no because they are simply too much. The man is never poor or alone who has good friends. My wife and I simply could not gave survived this were it not for our dear family and friends.

The accident has taught me more about the incredible gift of marriage. My father, during his speech at my wedding reception, said the sacrament of marriage gives us the grace to do the impossible. I have met people during these months who think it is incredible, even impossible, that my wife and I survived a trauma like this having been married only three months. I tell them it helps to marry the right woman and get married the right way, the way the Church taught the two of us what marriage is and why it should be honored. People have told us that they are inspired and receive hope from the witness of our marriage – it inspires us too, I respond! We feel it is possible to face anything, even a future of me paralyzed, so long as we cling to each other, to God, and to our marriage vows.

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:

But make no mistake, as soon as I am able, I am coming back to fight harder than ever for all of these things [the causes of life, marriage and religious freedom] because I know now that it is prayer that makes the warrior his strongest.

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.

Comments

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Richard Rush
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

My sincere wish for Thomas Peters’ life is for him to experience everything that he believes gay people deserve.

fannie
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

I too was rather disappointed by Thomas’ reflections. I started his post thinking that he might have done some more open-minded soul-searching during the course of his surely-diifficult recovery.

I’m still struggling to say something super compassionate for or about him. Mostly I find it incredibly sad that he wouldn’t see a larger purpose for himself in life that staying committed to his bigotry.

revchicoucc
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

Rob, his paragraphs on the role of family and friends in supporting him and his wife are quite beautiful. They made me think of the peak of the AIDS crisis, when so many of my friends were sick and dying, some quite fast. (One friend was admitted to the hospital on Monday with horrible headaches, diagnosed on Wed with AIDS, and died on Friday of opportunistic infections.)

Their lovers and partners and friends, including me, did the same thing as Mr. Peters’ family and friends. Yet, not one of them was married to each other.

It was not Mr. Peters’ church wedding that sustained him and his wife. It was their love for one another and that they were serious about keeping their promises “in sickness and in health.”

Every gay man knows one same-sex couple, or two, or more, who kept those same promises without ever being allowed to take on the legal obligations of marriage. That Mr. Peters still doesn’t seem to understand that aspect of marriage, as a commitment to another person’s well-being, a commitment two persons of the same sex are completely capable of making, is truly sad.

On the other hand, perhaps Pope Francis, who seems to be unafraid of being empathetic, will help the “American Papist” grow.

revchicoucc
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

I am glad that he is recovering physically better than most with this kind of injury. I do not wish him ill.

Marcus
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

Rob and revchicoucc: x1000. I actually choked up reading Peters’ words, knowing he could experience overwhelming love and support this vividly and come out of it still blind to his own role in denying it to other people who are, for the most part, just like him.

He’s not hate-filled or incapable of empathy, but he has an enormous blind spot which he refuses to acknowledge. That’s frustrating, and infuriating.

David in the O.C.
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

I’m not sure I’m capable of having empathy for someone that refuses to understand that other people should NEVER be forced to follow anyone’s particular chosen religious ideology. He continues to promote the dangerous idea that we should all be living in a Christian theocracy (of his making), and that he fails to acknowledge that secular civil marriage has always existed, and that non-religious couples are allowed to get married in our country.

He wouldn’t be the first religious fanatic that willfully wears blinders while claiming to do God’s bidding. Personally, I think our society has had its fill of the Santorums, Bachmanns, Browns… and Peters.

That being said, I hope he recovers as much as humanly possible. Regardless of how much I abhor his ignorant bigoted mindset, no one deserves that kind of devastating injury.

Bose in St. Peter MN
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

Peters in July: “We just want to make sure the Supreme Court doesn’t cut the conversation short by issuing a sweeping ruling.”

Peters wants to continue the conversation about whether all loving couples are entitled to the rights and responsibilities, trauma and high points wrapped up in choosing to marry. He knows better now about “the incredible gift of marriage” and that it “gives us the grace to do the impossible.”

But for any of his fellow rehab unit mates, he will fight to make marriage literally impossible if they are not hetero. He will fight to make it literally impossible for any of his wonderfully generous friends, family, caregivers or supporters to stand up at a state-recognized wedding of same-sex friends. He will fight to make it literally impossible for spouses to get family leave when their beloved suffers a traumatic injury, literally impossible in the worst-case scenario he barely avoided, to be known as spouse on a death certificate.

Peters could, but won’t, note that there has been no “conversation” about which spousal burdens and benefits he and his wife are entitled to. No conversation was required to determine whether her status as spouse was legal under state law, no conversation explored whether theirs was the “right” kind of marriage or whether they had been married long enough to qualify for full spousal rights.

I’ve followed the recovery blog closely, genuinely wanting the best for him and his family. I’m always curious to see how people adapt to life-changing events; it’s safe to say I’m done with my curiosity about Peters.

Bill Wilson
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

revchicoucc I think you got it exactly right. AIDS changed my belief about what it was to be gay. We took care of each other in ways that seemed such a contradiction to the hedonistic stereotypes then present in the media. I was witness to the power of love and know that what I saw in couples of the same sex was the same as what I saw in couples of the opposite sex.
Maybe in Peters’ community the piece of paper makes a difference, but in my community love in action has always spoken louder than words and we have always provided for our own. When that history is told and understood it brings people to my side not Peters side.
It is my hope and prayer that Peters will recover.

Stephen
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

I have nothing but pity for his wife. Taking on his care will consume her life. Following the ‘hate the sin love the sinner’ paradigm I hope I may respectfully despise his work – that presumably pays for his obviously superb health insurance – while pitying the man’s predicament. I still hope he can extrapolate from his own experiences to learn the truth of what marriage means to those of us not so privileged to assume support from family or respect from health care workers.

I would urge you all to read about this gay man, one of the great champions of American gymnastics, who recently suffered an almost identical industry that happened when he was teaching children. He too has a spouse, his husband who has been his coach and is now determined to see him live to the fullest extent his injury will allow.

http://www.towleroad.com/2013/10/out-gay-gymnast-kalon-ludvigson-paralyzed-video.html

http://usagym.org/pages/post.html?PostID=12821

Note: USA Gymnastics refers to Justen Millerbernd as his coach but not as his spouse.

Stephen
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

P.S. Comparing and contrasting these two marriages and their similar yet differing predicaments seems to me to be about the most compelling argument for equality I’ve yet seen

marcus
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

There may still be hope for Thomas. He has discovered a central benefit of marriage to society — the security of a safety net in times of crisis that precludes the need for dependence upon formal, expensive, societal structures.

So many times, the right has argued that marriage is about perpetuation of the species — that the benefit of marriage to society is having babies. It seems unlikely that as a good Catholic, married for only three months, T.P. has babies. It could be that he might never have babies. But he now knows the societal value of marriage.

PLAINTOM
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

Since NOM has recently been pushing the line that marriage is only valid for procreative purposes will his employer now call Peters marriage fraudulent and a threat to the institution of marriage.

CPT_Doom
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

@PLAINTOM – there was a case like that in Brazil, IIRC, a few years ago, when the Catholic Church refused to allow the marriage of a straight couple because the man was wheelchair bound and incapable of consummating the marriage. Because Peters was already married when he had his accident, the Church will still consider the marriage valid, I believe.

What I find sad about Peters is that, in all the care and rehabilitation he has undergone since the injury, it is nearly impossible he has not had at least one gay, lesbian or trans doctor, nurse, therapist or other healthcare worker. Whereas Peters’ family and friends have supported and helped him out of love, health care professionals do the same thing every day for total strangers out of a sense of compassion for the world, no matter who the patient is, or what politics he chooses. Yet in this modern day retelling of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Peters has not yet learned to see his alleged enemy as another human like himself.

Jim Hlavac
November 2nd, 2013 | LINK

the man speaks of his recovery and assistance doing it by attacking others? Oh, I’m sorry – -that just doesn’t get a vote of sympathy from me.

Andrew
November 3rd, 2013 | LINK

Why are we still flogging this issue? I continue to argue that this site gets far too interested in the intimate details of certain specific anti-gay personalities. It’s a little too navel-gazing and echo-chambery for me.

To top this off, a lot of us predicted precisely what Rob now reports. This is not news, and frankly, it’s not interesting.

Let the man recuperate in the peace – and obscurity – he deserves. If he can’t contribute to NOM, they’ll find someone else. Blah blah blah. Better empty space than more devoted to this drivel.

Rob Tisinai
November 3rd, 2013 | LINK

Sorry, Andrew, but you’re likely to get more of the same from me. If there’s some way of filtering out my posts, I’m sure Jim will let you know.

Hunter
November 3rd, 2013 | LINK

“. . . it helps to marry the right woman and get married the right way, the way the Church taught the two of us what marriage is and why it should be honored.”

When ideology trumps humanity. Peters doesn’t seem to be someone who is able to think for himself, if he’s relying on what the Church teaches about marriage, which is a very limited and, frankly, morally and intellectually impoverished viewpoint.

I wouldn’t look for any enlightenment on Peters’ part — he doesn’t seem capable of it, unlike Kirk, who is one of my senators. When Kirk first took office, I got an e-mail about the economy with all the Republican austerity talking points. He’s changed significantly. I may even vote for him, if he runs again.

Soren456
November 3rd, 2013 | LINK

This guy thinks in cliches, and not ideas. He is shallow as a wading pool.

Jack
November 3rd, 2013 | LINK

Don’t know how BTB missed the recent 5th anniversary of Jesse Helms’ passing. Maybe it’s not too late to post something celebrating his life and legacy now that writing paeans to incorrigible bigots is your speciality.

Kevin
November 3rd, 2013 | LINK

I won’t wish what happened to Thomas on anyone.
That’s as far as my compassion goes however.
I know some people wanted to believe he could change but here’s the thing.
He had already been exposed to countless stories of injustices gay and lesbian couples had been exposed to including hospital denials and it didn’t move him.
The idea this was going to change him was sadly a nieve hope.
A leopard doesn’t change it spots and Thomas Peters was and is someone who will always be a bigot to our community.

Paul Douglas
November 3rd, 2013 | LINK

What a coincidence! I’ve been wondering about Peters just yesterday realizing I’d heard nothing much since his accident.
I admit I am disappointed in his intransigence. I used to work on a trauma unit and many new quadriplegics become quite religious or their preexisting fervor gets stoked. I suspect its the bargaining phase with their god as much as not being in a space to risk the upset of their theology, when one’s whole life is now radically and likely permanently altered until they die. Only so many significant life changes are possible for most of us in a short time without going into a depressive tailspin. We should probably give Thomas some time to be introspective as the real world consequences of his accident sink in. Of course if he gets back on the right-wing über-catholic payroll, all bets are off. As Upton Sinclair said:

“It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.”

Andrew
November 4th, 2013 | LINK

Rob, you’re one of the better of the authors – you’re fairly dispassionate and very honest about your personal relationship to the subject matter at hand. Tim’s another story, and I simply won’t read his articles. Were I editor, he’d be yanked.

But yes, there’s the more obvious choice – I very rarely frequent this website anymore. I find it too negative – steeped in victimhood at times, too self-absorbed, and increasingly disconnected from my – or my friends’ experiences as gay people.

As we all know – if you don’t like something, change the channel. That said, there’s nothing wrong with trying to save good people from themselves when they become trapped in a bubble.

Stephen
November 4th, 2013 | LINK

It’s always good to hear from people with real experience. Mr Douglas makes very interesting points.

Robby
November 4th, 2013 | LINK

Its extremely hard for me to have compassion for someone that has none for me or my partner. We both have major health issues, and hospital visitation rights are critical to us; Thomas knowingly or unknowingly rubs the fact in our faces that his wife has unquestioned access to him to be by his side and take care of him.

I wish Thomas’ gate on nobody; he is impotent, fecally incontinent, immobile, and suffers from major complications of his C5 fracture. He will likely not live long. It is a tragedy that his contribution to this world was trying to prevent equality, desteoy families and harm children. History will not be kind to him at all.

Ben in Oakland
November 5th, 2013 | LINK

Andrew, I truly sorry you feel that way. I enjoy reading your comments. They’re intelligent and generally well thought out.

I also have to disagree with you about this website. I don’t comment as much or as at length as I used to. But I dont blame that on the website. I think it is consistently one of the best, most intelligent, and interesting of the many I could be frequenting. I find Timothy to be fair and accurate. But none of is perfect, and I find the level of discourse here generally very high, educational, logical, and interesting.

Andrew
November 5th, 2013 | LINK

Thanks, Ben – I’ve enjoyed you as well.

But – I couldn’t disagree with you more about Timothy K. He can’t let a news article go by without offering his own frequently unfortunate opinion. I find both a lack of maturity and restraint in many of his postings that have helped turn me off the site. You can tack on to that his habit of removing commentary he doesn’t like, which is pathetic.

But it’s not limited to him, and he doesn’t do anything without the support of his peers.

Far more annoying than editorializing, I find the selection of topics frankly very negative and diminishing. Too often big stories in the gay world are ignored here, especially when they don’t involve whining about what the latest NOM executive had for lunch.

A great point in case (but by no means the only one)? The Outgames took place in Europe this summer. Thousands attended – big positive story about the gay community. Number of articles here? Zero. Meanwhile, we get ridiculous scrutiny of Maggie Gallagher’s every move – replete with wailing over why, why, why anyone listens to Maggie Gallagher (here’s a word for the day: “introspection”).

It was very sad when, after taking a fairly long break from the site, I return to find we’re still flogging this same story about how “we all hope Peters’ injury will make him a more compassionate person, we’re shocked that it hasn’t, but we all wish him the very best”, even though many of us had never heard of the douche until this site offered us unasked for details into his personal medical situation. The same sad situation, the same commentary from Peters, the same empty, mandatory “I hope he feels better, but… ” comments from the same crowd.

This site feels more and more like a clique, and I don’t feel much like a Heather. But good luck with it all. I’m sure I won’t be able to resist the urge to poke my head in from time to time.

Marcus
November 5th, 2013 | LINK

Andrew: I’d understand your gripe if BTB purported to be a general-interest, global gay news site with neutral reporting sans commentary, but it doesn’t. Right in the header you have “News, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric,” not to mention the various mission statements under “About Us,” and the very name of the blog points to Americentric content.

I understand that BTB and its subject material isn’t to your taste, but that doesn’t make it a bad blog.

Timothy Kincaid
November 5th, 2013 | LINK

Meanwhile, we get ridiculous scrutiny of Maggie Gallagher’s every move – replete with wailing over why, why, why anyone listens to Maggie Gallagher (here’s a word for the day: “introspection”).

During the past 12 months, BTB has five articles that are tagged “Maggie Gallagher”, though it’s possible that she has been mentioned in passing in others. None wailed.

And one was written by yours truly, and as you never read columns I pen, you really can have only seen four. But perhaps they all coincided with your poking your head in.

As for OutGames, yes they certainly could get better attention. But I didn’t attend (I am inconvenienced by my need to earn a living) so I was unable to bring live coverage. But maybe I’ll win the lottery and have the freedom to better cover the news that you would like to hear. (though that would cause a conundrum – you’d be stuck getting OutGames coverage from my perspective, alas)

Rob Tisinai
November 5th, 2013 | LINK

Just for the record, I’m not a journalist. I’m an analyst and editorialist, so editorializing is a key reason why I’m here. I don’t have the time or travel budget to do original reporting, and not much interest in repeating news stories you can find elsewhere unless I have something new to say about them.

Andrew
November 5th, 2013 | LINK

My twin points are: (1) elevate the commentary, and (2) minimize micro-concentrating on fringe-personalities in the anti-gay professional caste.

I thank Rob for his dispassionate brevity and focus, and Marcus for reminding me that, yes, for better or worse, it is a site devoted to the negative. The question (back to Rob) is ‘what do we feel like commenting on’, and I guess my argument would be “more other stuff / less NOM”. Thomas Peters injury really warrants 3, 4, 5 postings?

As to Tim’s comments – thanks for being selectively literal. You knew perfectly well I was speaking to all the Maggies and Thomas’s and Peter Labarberas and all the other professional anti-gays, because that was the thrust of my comments on an article about Peters, and I’m pretty sure you’re not stupid — you just chose to get defensive and misrepresent the argument so you could cite numbers to make your comments look heftier than they are — because that’s what you do.

The commentary on the Outgames – and many other things going on in the gay community – wasn’t absent because you couldn’t go to Europe – commentary about Africa and Russia on this site is frequent – it came down to knowing it was going on and being interested in commenting on it – and that’s all that needs to be said without devolving into nonsense about your “living standards”. And your immature commentary isn’t strictly about one thing, it’s pretty much synonymous with “your style” of commentary, which is why I simply stopped reading your postings. And because of the frequency of your postings, and now roping poor Rob into the NOM-stalking brigade, why I have found other places to be.

Timothy Kincaid
November 5th, 2013 | LINK

Andrew,

You are totally right about one thing: this is a website written in the spare time of a handful of people who write about what they know about and what interests them. We have no corporate sponsors or media mogul alliances or other revenue tie-ins.

Though this notion seems to be missed by a lot of readers, we are not an online newspaper. None of us have journalism backgrounds.

We started when Jim wanted a place to document his review of some anti-gay claims. And when I left another site I used to write for, Jim invited me to write here. I don’t recall if Daniel was already writing here, but over time Gabe and Rob joined us.

What we are is simply some guys who type out our views, our perspectives about the things that we are interested in.

NOM and their public devolution from an advocacy group into a pack of ranting loons interests me,
Russia interests me,
the marriage movement interests me,
the evolution of the Republican Party interests me (20 years ago, the evolution of the Democratic Party interested me),
the whiplash rapidity of the current shift in religious doctrine and political interaction on the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage interests me,
and Thomas Peter’s tragedy and how or whether it impacts his perceptions interests me.

So I write about these things. When I have time. Which hasn’t been much at all lately.

And I write what I think; my opinion. You may not like it much – and you don’t have to.

Here’s the thing, Andrew, there are dozens of sites that will validate your opinion. No matter what you believe, it’s out there.

You want a site that believes that Republicans are inherently evil? That throws every person of faith into the same pot and pisses on all of them? That argues that no one should have the right to say unkind things about gay people? That faith should be kept hidden at home? That the appropriate response to those who disagree with us – on anything – is to call them h8ers and reTHUGlicans and TEAocrats? That there’s nothing worse on the planet than a quisling self-hating traitorous gay Republican?

Guess what? There are hundreds. Literally hundreds of websites agree with you.

There are even a few of those sites that are immensely popular. They have 100 times our readership.

And if you want the opposite, that’s out there too. If you want those who proudly declare that they aren’t The Left, who look for anything they can twist to absolve people like Ann Coulter, who pathetically slime up to people who despise them?

No problem. There are more than a few of those available.

And as for style, everyone has their own. You want snarky, got it. Clever, no problem. Erudite, folksy, pompous, it’s at your fingertips. Or go for mean-spirited and bitter. Spiteful, cranky, hate filled diatribes are all waiting there for you. There are even a few very sweet people who grace our world with their kindness and gentle spirit.

So if you don’t like what we write, there’s no reason to read BTB. There’s especially no reason to read what I write. Everything that you could possible want that can reinforce what you already believe – couched in language that meets your demands – is just a click or two away.

Rob Tisinai
November 5th, 2013 | LINK

I should also point out that no one has ever roped me into writing about NOM. I was stalking them long before I joined Box Turtle.

Jim Burroway
November 6th, 2013 | LINK

I have to say that I agree with what Rob and Timothy both said here in comments. We are all volunteer with full time day jobs. So what you see are the things that spark our respective interests. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the mix.

Jay
November 6th, 2013 | LINK

I am a frequent, indeed, almost daily, reader of BTB. I sometimes disagree with a particular column and have criticized the work of Timothy Kincaid in particular. However, there is a difference between criticizing and dismissing people out of hand. As Andrew said, he can always change the channel.

I must express my gratitude for the bloggers here, including Timothy Kincaid. I have learned a great deal from visiting this site and from reading the perspectives of all the bloggers including the work of Timothy. Jim, Rob, Timothy et al. do a real service for us.

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