Good Math, Bad Math

This post is quite thoroughly off-topic for this blog. But as someone who is openly religious and who
has written a number of posts that criticize Christian institutions, I get a fair bit of mail from cretins
who make demands that I speak up to defend their pathetic insistence that all religious people
must support discrimination. In the hopes that I can get these jackasses to leave me alone by
demonstrating that I’m so far beyond the pale that pestering me is a waste of time, I present this
post.

I do not “support” homosexuality – because I do not believe I have the right to an opinion on
it. Who someone is attracted to, who they choose to love, is quite simply none of my business. To say that
I support homosexuality is to say that it’s a subject where I have a right to expect that my opinion has
value and relevance. I don’t think that I have the right to decide in general whether anyone
else’s preferences, attractions, or choices about who to love, who to have sex with, are correct or not.
It’s simply so none of my business that expressing an opinion on it is an inappropriate intrusion
on the lives of others. When it comes to people that I know personally, of course I have opinions of their
choices – and it varies by the couple. There are some heterosexual couples that I’ve known who I think
should never have gotten together, who will inevitably make each other miserable, who are absolutely
ill-suited towards any kind of permanent relationship. But I don’t get to tell them what to do. I’ve also
got homosexual friends who have some of the most beautiful, romantic, almost perfect partnerships that
I could imagine. And I don’t get to tell them what to do either. I’ve got my opinions about those, because I know and care about the people in them – but I don’t and shouldn’t have any right to put any legal force behind those opinions.

I support civil unions rather than legal marriage for gay couples. But that is only because I do not support legal marriage at all, for anyone: I also support civil unions rather than legal marriage for straight couples.

Marriage is really two different things which have gotten mushed together: a legal contract
recognizing a certain legal relationship between two people; and a declaration (possibly endorsed
by a religion, possibly not) recognizing a certain personal relationship between two people. Just as it is
involved in enforcing all other kinds of legal contracts, the government has a good reason for being
involved in the former. But it has absolutely no right and no justification for being involved in the
latter.

The two should be separated. The legal contract is a civil union; the personal declaration is
marriage. Any two people – or even any group of adults who wish to establish a common household should be able to register their relationship via the legal contract of civil union: a straight couple,
a gay couple, a group of people with no sexual relationship at all. The government should be permitted to
regulate the legal structure of civil union – but only as a legal contract between
responsible adults.

The personal declaration should be completely out of the governments hands. They should have no more right to say who can be married or how they can be married than they have to say who can be bar-mitzvahed, or who can have children. When it comes to religious marriage, who can or cannot participate in a religious ceremony is no business of the government – it’s a matter for the religious community, and the government should keep its grubby little nose out.

And as a religious Reconstructionist Jew, I fully support religious gay marriage in the Reconstructionist community.

Comments

  1. #1 gg
    August 16, 2007

    Well put, MCC. I’m willing to bet, though, that this doesn’t help with the idiotic emails…

  2. #2 Ben
    August 16, 2007

    It is a thoughtful and logical solution, but I think that it is very unlikely that the government would stop endorsing marriages (I can imagine people whining about banning marriage), I think that supporting equal rights is the way to go.

  3. #3 Brendan S
    August 16, 2007

    You know, I think about this a lot too. And I like the separation aspect you’ve got there, but I think it should go further a bit.

    I think that Civil Unions should be drawn up like any other formal contract. With an explicit stating of the expected responsibilities, duties, etc. of each party, terms of breech of contract, time limit, what have you.

    First off, this would make divorce sort of a non issue, because the terms are built right into your contract.

    Secondly, we might avoid people getting together with different expectations.

  4. #4 TSM
    August 16, 2007

    I’m not sure that Mark writing intelligently like this, about things that generate truckloads of stupid, angry e-mails for him, is going to solve his underlying problem, here — he will still be getting people coming by to read his intelligent and lucid commentary, because it is intelligent and lucid, and he will still be getting the trolls and whatnot coming by, since they’re on patrol for things to be angry about, anyway (and firing off e-mails to him about it, whatever it is, anyway).

    I think the mistake is to infer that, if some person (John Q. Troll) is writing angrily about topic X, that the topic came first, and that the anger came second. Some people are just angry, loutish and rude, and since being aware of that that would force them to examine themselves, they just paste angry opinions all over the blogosphere, as a cheap and ineffective substitute for the psychotherapy they so badly need, and as a great way to avoid paying attention to some supposed topic, rather than their mental pathologies.

    Well, sometimes, anyway.

  5. #5 KKairos
    August 16, 2007

    So do you think anyone who opposes homosexuality (not homosexuals) is bigoted, even if they’re not out to ban gay marriage (or gay civil unions)? I would certainly disagree there–in my opinion, to think so would be “bad theology.”

    However I am in pretty much total and complete agreement with the civil unions / marriage distinction idea, and have been for probably one or two and a half years now.

  6. #6 KKairos
    August 16, 2007

    ((For the record, when I said “bad theology,” I was referring only to making an absolute connection between opposition to homosexuality as a lifestyle and bigotry towards homosexuals as people. I do not deny that, unfortunately, many religious people including many Christians seem to be unable to separate the two.))

  7. #7 Craig Pennington
    August 16, 2007

    I support civil unions rather than legal marriage for gay couples. But that is only because I do not support legal marriage at all, for anyone: I also support civil unions rather than legal marriage for straight couples.

    I understand your position, but given that the government is in the marriage business, it must not discriminate without a compelling state interest to do so. I will oppose anything short of government neutrality; thus I will oppose civil unions as sufficient to resolve the government discrimination wrt civil marriage.

  8. #8 Rance
    August 16, 2007

    You have stated my position exactly.

    Recently, there was an article in the NY Times about couples finding out that they were not legally married because their state didn’t recognize mail-order ministers. If you were married when you filed the paperwork at the courthouse, there would be no question. You could have anyone you wanted, say anything they wanted at your ceremony. You could even conduct the ceremony yourself.

    But that’s too simple a solution.

  9. #9 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    August 16, 2007

    Craig:

    Note what I’m saying: that anything short of total equality, with the government getting out of the emotional religious part of things is unacceptable.

    I agree that if the government stays in the marriage business, then marriage should be open to everyone. The point is that there needs to be a distinction between what makes a *legal* marriage and what makes a *religious*/*emotional* marriage. The government is in the business of the former, but not the latter.

    Frankly, when it comes to the politics of things, I’m seriously annoyed that all of the supposed democrats running for president, and damn near every democrat in congress just runs away from the whole issue of who should be allowed to be married; I think that coming out and saying “Governments shouldn’t tell you who you can marry – your church tells you that, and we’ll stay the hell out” is actually a pretty compelling position. It wouldn’t satisfy the fundies, but I think it would satisfy just about everyone else, and it provides a way of answering the question that (A) answers without weaseling, and (B) reframes the question.

    It turns things around in an important way. Instead of being a question of “should two men be allowed to get married”, it would turn it into “should the government tell people who they can marry?” And that’s important because a big part of the conservative lie is always to whine about “big government telling you what to do”, while doing everything possible to accumulate more power to allow the government (them) to tell you what to do.

  10. #10 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    August 16, 2007

    Rance:

    Yes, exactly.

    As I said, I’m Jewish. One very interesting thing about Jewish weddings is that you aren’t “married by” a Rabbi. Religiously, you don’t need any “authority” to marry you. The Jewish wedding is a ritual performed by the bride and groom in front of witnesses. No officiant needed.

    When my wife and I got married, we actually ran into a bit of trouble, because the synagogue where the ceremony was taking place got into a very ugly dispute with the Rabbi (who was in the early stages of what turned out to be Alzheimers), and he wouldn’t do the ceremony, so we needed to find someone else to do it. My first thought was to call a college friend who was studying to become a cantor – but he was one year away from finishing. He knew the ceremony, but we couldn’t have him marry us, because legally he wasn’t a clergy. But Jews don’t *need* a clergy to be married.

    (Fortunately for us, it all worked out. The person who ended up doing the ceremony is the person who we originally wanted. We’d given in to requests from my family to let the family Rabbi do it; when he backed out, we managed to get back to our first choice, and *also* have my friend the Cantor sing.)

  11. #11 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 16, 2007

    Is the following Good Math, Bad Math, Satanism, or Gay Marriage?

    arXiv:math/0606635 (replaced)
    Title: Current Mathematics Appears to Be Inconsistent
    Authors: Guang-Liang Li, Victor O. K. Li
    Comments: 5 pages and 1 figure, updated version of math.GM/0606635v3 with additional results and proofs
    Subjects: General Mathematics (math.GM)

  12. #12 Kyle
    August 16, 2007

    Well I’m proud to read this blog. Good stuff, as always.

    P.S. You could probably use a graph to show the relationships between the idiots that send you these emails, then square it and delete it. It wouldn’t do anything, but it could be symbolic. . .of something.

  13. #13 Anonymous
    August 16, 2007

    So do you think anyone who opposes homosexuality (not homosexuals)

    It’s really a distinction without much of a difference. Consider someone who “opposes vegetarianism (not vegetarians)”. What would that even mean? If you’re against someone being able to do something, your against someone who finds that something a part of their identity and life.

  14. #14 Rose Colored Glasses
    August 16, 2007

    There you go being rational again. No wonder kooks get riled up. Expression of sanity to them is like blood on the water to sharks. It attracts them and sends them into frenzies.

    Keep up the good work. I get a giggle out of seeing them rant and rave.

  15. #15 JuliaL
    August 16, 2007

    Great post.

    Your legal/personal distinction is the clearest statement I’ve ever read of the argument that government should be involved in civil unions only. This is an issue whose time has come for some serious support.

    I think that, from a purely practical standpoint, bringing in group arrangements at this point is likely to derail any serious effort to bring civil unions to any pair of competent adults because we don’t have so much experience in domestic contracts for groups that such contracts could be easily understood/accepted by the public. Civil union for pairs, however, is pretty easily explained and understood as a contract providing all the rights, benefits, and obligations of marriage, excluding any implication/reference to sexual/romantic relationships. The first step would be, I think, to establish such contracts nationwide without ending government-sanctioned marriage.

    Once it is clear that the civil union contracts are working well (with insurance benefits, for example, actually being properly applied), then the question of ending government marriage might be much easier to tackle.

  16. #16 Antendren
    August 16, 2007

    Jonathan,

    It’s bad math. They are correct that each even statement is the negation of the proceeding odd statement, and if any pair were provable, it would prove the inconsistency of mathematics. However, they fail to do so. The even statements are correct. The odd statements are wrong.

    The fundamental problem with their reasoning is their belief that an infimum must be realized. This is false, and it’s why such a big deal is made about the difference between a min and an inf in analysis.

    The flaw in the proof of 1 is the sentence “If m(ABX_1\Delta) = 0, . . .”. This sentence is unsupported and does not follow. The sentence “If m(ABX_1\Delta) > 0, . . .” is also unsupported, but since the m(ABX_1\Delta) = 0, it’s irrelevant.

    The flaw in the proof of 3 is the claim that there exists such an I_a. Its existence does not follow from the infimum being 0.

    As for statement 5, a thought experiment is not a proof. If you try to make it rigorous, you’ll find that their concept of a “stopping instant” is not well-defined unless you make it an infimum, in which case tau = 0 would not imply an open interval of length 0.

    Mathematicians don’t use the terms “potential infinite” and “actual infinite”, so I have no idea what they’re attempting to describe on page 4. Maybe someone with an engineering background could clarify (the authors both being engineers)?

  17. #17 Craig Pennington
    August 16, 2007

    Mark,

    I understand that we are in agreement, I just wanted to point out that civil marriage *is* a civil union and it is not a religious marriage. Homosexuals can already get religious marriages (at least in civilized religions,) much to the dismay of bigots. I wanted to make more forcefully than you did the point that making up a separate-but-equal civil union in which homosexuals could participate is inadequate to remedy the government discrimination in *existing* civil unions — which are called civil marriages.

    KKairos,

    I’m not Mark, but I’m shameless, so I’ll answer: I’d be hard pressed to find a situation where an opposition to homosexuality in general can be distinguished from an opposition to homosexuals. Perhaps I am just incapable of granting that premis.

    Maybe a person who holds the opinion that homosexuals should be forever celibate could qualify. Still, I consider that position crazy, assuming all participants in the non-celibacy of said homosexuals are consenting adults. In fact I do consider it bigotry.

  18. #18 Giacomo Dorigo
    August 16, 2007

    Your distinction is very straight forward and I think you are completely right asserting that “it turns things around in an important way” bringing to a radical change of perspective.

  19. #19 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    August 16, 2007

    KKairos:

    First, I simply don’t accept the idea that someone who is “opposed to homosexuality but not homosexuals” actually exists. If you’re “opposed to” a fundamental identity trait of a person, how can you pretend that you’re not actually opposed to the person who possesses that identity trait?

    Second, I do consider anyone who is “opposed to” something like homosexuality to be a bigot. It is, quite simply, not
    the business of *anyone* but the individuals themselves, and anyone who feels that they have the right to intrude on and judge the “correctness” of such private personal matters is
    a bigot.

  20. #20 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 16, 2007

    “potential infinite” and “actual infinite” seem to be terms left over from Aristotle.

    ==========

    Actual infinity
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    In metaphysics, Aristotle distinguished between actual and potential infinities. An actual infinity is something which is completed and definite and consists of infinitely many elements. A potential infinite is a sequence which is endless. Whereas all the elements of an actually infinite set are assumed to exist together simultaneously, the elements of a potentially infinite sequence exist only consecutively over time.

    In mathematics, actual infinity is the notion that all (natural, real etc.) numbers can be enumerated in any sense sufficiently definite for them to form a set together. Hence, in the philosophy of mathematics, the abstraction of actual infinity involves the acceptance of infinite entities, such as the set of all natural numbers or an arbitrary sequence of rational numbers, as given objects.

    The mathematical meaning of the term actual in actual infinity is synonymous with definite, not to be mistaken for physically existing. The question of whether natural or real numbers form definite sets is therefore independent of the question of whether infinite things exist actually in nature.

    Proponents of intuitionism reject the claim that there are actually infinite mathematical objects or sets. Consequently, they reconstruct the foundations of mathematics (analysis, calculus etc.) in a way that does not assume the existence of actual infinities using constructivist analysis.

    Classical mathematicians generally accept actual infinities. Georg Cantor is the most significant mathematician who defended actual infinities. He decided that it is possible for natural and real numbers to be definite sets, and that if one rejects the axiom of Euclidean finiteness (that states that actualities, singly and in aggregates, are necessarily finite), then one is not involved in any contradiction.

    The philosophical problem of actual infinity concerns whether the notion is coherent and epistemically sound.

    ==========
    Subject: Actual and potential infinite in Euclidean geometry
    List-id: Foundations of Mathematics

    Alexander Zenkin asked about Aristotle’s potential and actual infinite in the «concept of line» used by Euclides in the Elements.

    The concept of line from «Definition 2» (of the Elements) has been deeply discussed throughout the History of Mathematics.

    [Definition 2 of the Elements]
    Grammè dè mêkos aplatés : a line is breathless length (Thomas Heath translation).

    In what concerns potential and actual infinite, Sir Thomas Heath, in his translation of the Elements, presents a detailed history of interpretation of the concepts involved, e.g., in pages 232-233.
    The interpretations of Definition 2, together with the taxonomy of lines, are discussed from page 158 on.

    Euclid, The Thirteen Books of the Elements (3 volumes), Translated by Sir Thomas L. Heath, Dover Edition.

    I know that research on this subject is being done in History of Science, namely in Lisbon.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    J. Felix Costa
    Departamento de Matematica
    Instituto Superior Tecnico
    Av. Rovisco Pais, 1049-001 Lisboa, PORTUGAL

    www: http://fgc.math.ist.utl.pt/jfc.htm
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Whenever an Engineer starts talking metaphysics, I reach for my soldering gun and defend myself.

    Thanks, Antendren

  21. #21 Rebecca
    August 16, 2007

    Thank you! This is pretty much EXACTLY the same point I’ve been making for years.

  22. #22 wintersweet
    August 17, 2007

    Hear, hear.

    It’ll take decades or maybe even centuries for most Americans (for example) to come around to this point of view, though.

    If an option of equal-rights civil unions were created, I’d seriously consider getting divorced and remarried (to the same person), because I feel a bit shifty having taken advantage of the system because I happen to be an XX who fell in love with an XY.

  23. #23 A lawyer
    August 17, 2007

    Re #15:

    “I think that, from a purely practical standpoint, bringing in group arrangements at this point is likely to derail any serious effort to bring civil unions to any pair of competent adults because we don’t have so much experience in domestic contracts for groups that such contracts could be easily understood/accepted by the public.”

    I think you’re understating things quite a bit. Bringing in group arrangements at this point is likely to derail civil unions because it will generate massive hysteria.

    I was once invited to address a polyamory group. This was right after the Defense of Re-election Act–excuse me, the Defense of Marriage Act was passed, and many of the supporters of the Act argued “if we allow gay marriage, group marriage will be next” (at which point, apparently, we’ll fall into the sun). I congratulated the group for being the only people scarier than gays.

  24. #24 David
    August 17, 2007

    I would rather the government stayed out of marriage AND out of ‘civil unions’. The women, men, and groups with whom I live, sleep, party, or whatever is really none of the governments business. I would prefer everything is handled by ‘private contract’ and that the government’s only role is to enforce the contract if the need arrises.

  25. #25 Seth Manapio
    August 17, 2007

    I’ve been saying this for years. Maybe its a computer geek thing: look past the label and see what is actually going on.

  26. #26 milan_va
    August 17, 2007

    For #23: The reason why the government needs to be involved is because of deciding intestacy (? – sorry I’m not native English speaker) when the mate dies, access to the mate’s health information when s/he’s unconsious, etc.
    Legal things, just as MarkCC says.

  27. #27 trrll
    August 18, 2007

    I agree that the root problem is that governmental recognition of marriages results in entanglement of government with religion. The question is how to get them properly separated. Oddly enough, it seems like the best way to do this is to insist that if there is government recognition of “marriage” at all, then it must include gay marriage as well. That will get all the bigots pressing for the government to get out of the marriage business. Then they can make up their own kinds of marriages with whatever rules they want, and anybody who doesn’t want to be part of that can stick with a civil union.

  28. #28 Science Avenger
    August 19, 2007

    A fabulous post. I will be giving it much thought. One thing your reasoning reveals is how, as long as the government is regulating marriage, it is forced to pass judgement on what sort of activities qualify as sufficiently romantic for marriage to be allowed. Your solution elegantly, ahem, divorces government from that and puts it in the sphere it belongs – enforcing societal rules for those who have chosen the civil union.

  29. #29 mu
    August 21, 2007

    your separate civil and religious ceremony is what’s practiced in Germany, so they are both called weddings. You need to have a civilian marriage certificate before a cleric is allowed to marry you. Interestingly enough, most Germans celebrate the religious wedding as “the big one”, and use that date as their anniversary, despite the fact that the civil one (usually done a week in advance, as to get it out of the way of the festivities) is the legally binding one.
    Or, as my grandmother told my mom after her civil ceremony “don’t think you’re married yet!”, with the clear connotation that cohabitation with her husband at this stage was out of the question.

  30. #30 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 21, 2007

    Beacuse of separation of Church and State, the state of California essentially cannot question my credentials as Reverend.

    Hence, as a favor to JPL and Caltech folks I knew, themselves atheist or agnostic, who wanted a wedding to satisfy their parents (religious), and had the marriage papers filed in civil court.

    I work out a ceremony with the bride and bridegroom-to-be, and perform it in a formal black suit, sometimes reading the laser-printed script from inside a copy of the red-covered hard-covered Feynman Lecture Notes in Physics.

    “What edition of the Bible was that?” asks a slightly confused parent, after I’d handed off to an accomplice, “and what denomination did you say was your church?”

    I’ve performed Christian weddings, Jewish weddings, and would certainly have performed gay weddings if anyone had asked.

  31. #31 Chris
    August 23, 2007

    A-fucking-men! Excuse my language, I’m just ecstatic to see the arguments in this post put forth publicly. This is exactly how I’ve felt for years. Anyone looking for an example of the real power of religion in this country need look no further than marriage. Marriage *is* between a man and a woman because its an inextricably religious construction. There could be no clearer violation of the separation of church and state, and yet not even the most secular politicians can so much as mention this, not to mention push for changing it. My partner (of the opposite gender) and I made just such a set of legal arrangements as those Mark advocated instead of getting married. To my shock and horror, however, our state amended its constitution in 2004 to explicitly forbid any legal agreement “approximating marriage”. I lost all many of my illusions about the political culture of this country when that one passes without controversy (to the tune of 70-80%).

  32. #32 Harald Korneliussen
    August 24, 2007

    “I support civil unions rather than legal marriage for gay couples. But that is only because I do not support legal marriage at all, for anyone: I also support civil unions rather than legal marriage for straight couples.”

    I’m happy to hear that! I’ve promoted that idea for a while, and it’s great to see people agree.

  33. #33 Norm Breyfogle
    September 2, 2007

    Screw all bigotry. I “SUPPORT” homosexuality, though I’m straight myself (and there’s nothing wrong with that). The childish and superstious fear that granting gays full marrying status might somehow hurt hetero marriages – and so they should only be allowed “civil unions” – is nothing but a slightly more subtle form of bigotry. Though all other legal rights could be provided via civil unions, my conversations with my gay friends have convinced me that denying them “marriage” is still an unequal labeling which helps sustain social prejudice against them.

  34. #34 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    September 2, 2007

    Norm:

    I don’t disagree. The distinction that I’d like to make is that “marriage” is a social/religious ritual, and the rules concerning it should be outside the control of the government. I know multiple gay couples who have been married by clergy, and damn it, they’re married. The problem, as far as I’m concerned, is that the government is interfering – the community these people live in consider them married; the clergy consider them married – they *are* married.

    The government shouldn’t have *any* say in *marriage*. The governments only concern should be in *contracts*. The *contract* is civil union; the *social construct* is marriage.

  35. #35 Norm Breyfogle
    September 2, 2007

    Agreed, Mark CC. I did read your blog, and I understood us to be in virtual agreement already.

    I’d just add that as long as the government does indeed stay involved, then I’ll support the right of gays to be “married” just exactly like heteros.