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Mmmmm, pi

by Jeremy Hooper

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse (whose Ruth Institute is an official affiliate of NOM) has taken exception with this very site and its readers, writing not one but two posts that namedrop us as she defends her side's intensely Catholic-based work against civil marriage equality, as well as the man who was largely behind that Catholic push in California, Bishop Salvatore Cordileone. Now, most of her schtick comes from the usual place (e.g. the reproduction argument, the side-stepping of the faith motivation, etc.). However, we did find this bit to be somewhat unique:

"We cannot change the value of “pi” from 3.141 to 3, just because we think it would be more convenient. Marriage is more like “pi” than like traffic rules.

6A00D8341C503453Ef0120A7A8Aa5B970B-1Let me put it as simply as I can: your side believes that marriage is whatever we say it is. Our side believes that marriage is something, something particular, which exists apart from our desires. We have no more power to change the essential features of marriage than we have to redefine “pi” to be equal to 3, so that math phobic people won’t have to deal with all the pesky decimal places.

You are asking us to do something that is simply not possible.
Why We Cannot Redefine Marriage [Ruth]

Uhm, okay. Let's break it down:

a) Don't be mistaken, Ms. R.M.: We're not "asking" anything. We're demanding the equality that we are owed! The distinction matters.

b) Please don't condescend. You don't need to put anything "as simply as you can," Ms. R.M., as if we are incapable of understanding your logic. We hear everything you say -- we just reject it.

c) If the current system of marriage is as true and unchangeable as pi, then what was it back when women were treated like property, when concubines were embraced, when dowries were more important than love, when interracial couples were banned, etc.? Sorry, but the "now it's perfect" argument just doesn't square away!

d) We don't want marriage to be "whatever we say it is," and it's just childish to suggest that we do. All movements are judged on their arguments. All arguments are judged on their merits. What we as a movement have said, basically, is that as long as there is a CIVIL marriage system in this nation that binds couples with their government, then it should be and should've always been open to ALL tax-paying citizens regardless of gender. That is our argument. Our argument has passed many tests already. If other movements want to push their own ideas, then they have the freedom. But it's completely unfair to opportunistically put any other movement in bed with gay activists. Esp. polygamists -- there's no room in their beds as it is ;-)

e) The "marriage exists apart from our desires" line is so incredibly hokey. Who defines these "desires"? You, Ms. Morse? Because frankly, from studying your work over the past few years, I can safely say that your desires for society are light years apart from what I and my loved ones want for our families. Are we not part of "the people"?

f) Gay couples exist. In unions. Thanks to some noble states, even in marriages. And sometimes these unions also include children. You want to talk about "essential features" in terms of how our government recognizes couplings, but you don't want to talk about an essential part of our natural spectrum! Or more apropos to this conversation: You don't want to talk to the "essential features" of American freedom, which we think preclude your side from denying us of our liberties (especially when using such undeniable religious motivation).

g) The "simply not possible" argument? Somehow we think Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Vermont (as well as many foreign governments) would disagree with you on the definition of impossibility. And I, as a legally married gay man, would disagree with you as well. It was pretty easy, actually. Martha even deemed it a good thing.

h) In numerics, pi is irrational. So too civil discrimination.

**Go leave your own thoughts on either of the two posts that Ms. Morse has written about us: "Defending Bishop Cordileone" // "Why We Cannot Redefine Marriage"

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Your thoughts

It's even more ironic, since she uses the value of pi as an example of something immutable. The Bible - the book upon which she and other Christians base their faith - says that the value of pi is...3.

No, really.

And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and the height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it about. (I Kings 7, 23)

So...for her "side", pi IS 3.

And ya know, there are all these people who will go to great lengths to show why the Bible was wrong here, or how this sort of mathematical fudging is OK - but exploring the true meaning of ancient Hebrew words or the society issues at the time the scrolls were written is absolutely forbidden, because if it has to do with teh gayz, then their interpretation of the text is the unerring word o'God.

Posted by: Laura | Feb 11, 2010 7:57:59 PM

Actually, pi is 3.14159265. So if you are going to round to the thousandths like she did, you round up to 3.142. So first, she rounded wrong. Second, as with any number, you can round it down to just one decimal, which would make the value of pi equal to ... 3. She tried to be clever and failed miserably.

Posted by: Mike | Feb 11, 2010 8:39:59 PM

Heh @ Laura.

What's also funny about the Bible getting the value of pi wrong is that civilizations that predated and coexisted with the Hebrews understood pi. Nomadic illiterates, indeed.

But I'm not sure we should be paying attention to a woman who anthropomorphizes marriage anyway.

There is simply no evidence that this mysterious being called "Marriage" exists apart from human definition.

Is it me, or are the Catholic "natural order" arguments dumber than anything that ever came out of Dobson's mouth?

Posted by: Evan Hurst | Feb 11, 2010 8:47:37 PM

Keep in mind that this is the same person who sells anti-marriage equality "party kits":


Posted by: G-A-Y | Feb 11, 2010 8:51:45 PM

This woman lives in another world. She believes in the supernatural and thinks that her god defined marriage. Well, I left my comment on her page but I doubt it stays up long. I just asked her if we are to ignore how history teaches us that marriage has gone from a paternal harim, to dowry and property, to women's suffrage, to miscegenation being eliminated and now to marriage equality. It's already been redfined in many countries and states. She is ignoring what is right in front of her own nose.

Posted by: Mykelb | Feb 11, 2010 9:37:05 PM

Her blog entry starts with, "Further response to the Good As You readers: I suspect the issue that bothers you the most is why won’t the Church recognize a same sex union as a valid marriage?"

She lost me right there - I don't give a damn what her or anyone else's church thinks of me or my future marriage. Way to lose your audience right out of the gate.

Anyone want to do an Over-Under on how many times Jeremy has to write "CIVIL, CIVIL, CIVIL - did we mention CIVIL rights"?

Posted by: DN | Feb 11, 2010 9:54:07 PM

Let's not forget that in many cultures--some not unlike our own!--civil and legally recognized marriages between two males was not uncommon, such as among the Gay tribal members of the Chuckchi in Russia or the Native American plains Indians who were thought to be natural-born Shamans as a consequence of their sexual orientation. Their societies viewed them as deeply sacred and revered them with great spiritual power and authority! This fact is true in many non-monotheistic religions. Even in Rome the Emperors Nero and Elagabalus each married men to great cheers of jubilation from the on-looking citizens. I dare anyone to argue that these marriages somehow do not qualify as "marriages"! I wonder on what grounds they would base their arguments, after all, they are clearly marriages in the secular sense! Even the ancient historians recording events in Rome used the word "spouse" to describe the Emperors' husbands.

Oh, and let us not forget that our system of government was based off of that from pre-Christian Rome!

But, if anyone tries to use the whole, "marriage is for children" BS (despite that fact that elderly and infertile couples are allowed to marriage) try to remind them that in the pre-Industrial Revolutionary era children were not produced out of a desire to raise a family; in fact, children were commonly viewed as a labor force to be exploited!

Sadly, folks like she and Maggie Gallagher keep harping about how we mustn't "re-define" marriage (as if it's never been throughout the historical record!); but no commentators (especially not the media, such as CNN) ask the important question, "Why should we allow Christians and Christianity to define what does and does not constitute a marriage?" After all, Mags is quick to declare, "When you re-define marriage you change the definition for everybody!" Do we really want Christians sticking their noses into our private lives? Just think about that for a minute. If it's allowed then we might get a country of subjugation under Biblical Law as being described by the Southern Poverty Laws Center's 2005 Intelligence Report: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2005/spring/holy-war

Posted by: Wade MacMorrighan | Feb 11, 2010 11:54:22 PM

Not to diminish the seriousness of the subject but doesn't Morse look a little like a character Kevin McDonald might have played on KIDS IN THE HALL?

Posted by: Mike | Feb 12, 2010 2:34:36 AM

"And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and the height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it about. (I Kings 7, 23)

So...for her "side", pi IS 3.

And ya know, there are all these people who will go to great lengths to show why the Bible was wrong here, or how this sort of mathematical fudging is OK - but exploring the true meaning of ancient Hebrew words or the society issues at the time the scrolls were written is absolutely forbidden, because if it has to do with teh gayz, then their interpretation of the text is the unerring word o'God."

I wanted to point this out, of course if you confronted her about the fact that the bible says that she'd just claim it was metaphorical or some such BS, like people always do with the inconvenient parts of their 'infallible' holy books.

Posted by: penguinsaur | Feb 12, 2010 3:42:44 AM

Mike you are dead on with that! The turtle neck and the faux-piercing eyes are very Simon Milligan (all she needs is her own Manservant Hecubus).

Posted by: DN | Feb 12, 2010 9:56:26 AM

Tax the church (and all religions)! That's what I want Ms. Hunchback Moose.

Posted by: John Ozed | Feb 12, 2010 10:13:02 AM

Yippee, JH has a new foe! Love to see him get up and started and WORKIN' one.

Posted by: LOrion | Feb 12, 2010 1:40:19 PM

Goes to show you can justify anything with a bad enough analogy. e^iπ-1=0, therefore Elvis is alive.

Posted by: marsmannetje | Feb 12, 2010 2:44:50 PM

I notice that she is a Ph.D. Where exactly did she get her doctorate, and in what field of study? I'm always stunned to find people like this who seemingly cannot grasp simple concepts like civil equality yet have advanced degrees. I question the educational facility that bestows said degrees upon such people as they are clearly incapable of rational argument and are completely ignorant of the history of the subject in question.

Posted by: ZnSD | Feb 12, 2010 3:16:39 PM

"Religions define marriage." See, this is the kind of crap people spout when kids aren't really taught history.

Marriage was never a religious institution first. It was a civil contract. Then, later, it was a civil contract your holy leader blessed (like when a priest blesses your new house). There were more than a few early Church leaders who said it sullied religion to involve it in a worldly affair like marriage because ideally every Christian was supposed to be celibate. Only much, much later was marriage considered a sacrament in Christianity. (They got around to officially doing away wih concubinage in the Sixteenth Century, by the way. Let's hear it for the sanctity of the institution!) The Council of Trent defined marriage in the 1560s, and it was a DIFFERENT DEFINITION than what "marriage" had meant up to that point.

So do NOT give me hogwash about how marriage is 1.) unchanged throughout history (even Christian history) until now, and 2.) a religious invention.

Posted by: Aconite | Feb 12, 2010 4:44:27 PM

I took the time to post there pointing out that I couldn't care less what the Catholic church thinks of my marriage. That marriage is a civil institution that was co-opted by the church. And that it was time for professional busy-bodies, such as herself, to find some more respectable way of making a living. My post was deleted.

The Primitive church regarded marriage as a pagan institution and refused to marry its members. The pilgrims of Plymouth, for god's sake, did the same. Marriage has always been flexible and has been adapted to fit changing circumstances countless times. The difference now is that too many people make their livings spreading anti-gay nonsense.

Posted by: wister | Feb 14, 2010 8:50:42 AM

"Born into a Catholic working class family, Dr. Morse earned a doctorate in economics during her twelve year lapse from the faith. A committed career woman before having children, she taught economics for fifteen years at Yale University and George Mason University."

Her Ph.D. is in Economics. Which, of course, makes her eminently qualified to be discussing religious (profiteering) topics. But, perfectly unqualified to discuss social issues.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Feb 14, 2010 2:12:42 PM

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