The Corner

“Three” Versus “Sex”

Barney Frank was on Fox News Sunday talking about gay marriage last Sunday. He was up against Sen. Jon Cornyn. I think Frank got the better of Cornyn time and again (Frank is indisputably smart, if not necessarily always wise). But Frank trotted out an argument I’ve heard countless times and I still don’t get it.

Chris Wallace asked, “If you’re going to argue for the right of gays to marry, why stop there? Why not, say, polygamy or any other personal choice?”

Frank ressponded

“Because society has, I think, a right to make certain decisions. They ought to make them fairly.

Deciding that a relationship between two people promotes stability, is likely to help society, is a rational decision. And two versus three is a very clear thing. You have a three-way situation, the likelihood of dissension, et cetera, is greater.

Now, Frank didn’t continue on this point, but I’ve heard it elaborated any number of times. The gist seems to be: defining marriage as a bond between two people is rational but defining marriage as a bond between a man and a woman is arbitrary and rooted in bigoted abstraction.

I just don’t get that. I don’t want to get into the philosophy of mathematics — not my expertise — but aren’t numbers more abstract than the actual flesh and blood typologies of man and woman? How is confining marriage to one man and one woman more arbitrary or irrational than confining it to two people? Of course, I think confining marriage to two people and to one man and one woman is rational. But even if I didn’t, purely as a matter of reasoning, I think I would find the argument that one criteria is obviously more arbitrary than the other to be unpersuasive. The only difference between the two — and this is a real difference — is political and/or moral; lots of people are demanding that one of the criteria be dropped.

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