email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in CrisisSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebVirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshZen Sex
This is a lucid and powerful argument in defense of humane laws regarding gay and lesbian people. Nussbaum begins by opposing what she calls “the politics of disgust,” on which she blames most of the historical and remaining discriminatory laws, and then moves on to outline an alternative “politics of humanity” (based on respect, imagination, sympathy, and love) and the kind of laws that such politics would support. The book is easy to read and will be of interest to anyone who cares about law, politics, philosophy, psychology, or social justice.
As well as a preface and a conclusion there are six main chapters. The first examines the rhetoric, theory, and history of disgust toward homosexuality and toward gay and lesbian people themselves. The second describes a contrasting politics of humanity. Chapter Three looks in detail at laws against sodomy, both in the United States and in other countries. Chapter Four is about the U.S. Supreme Court case of Romer v. Evans, which declared Colorado’s anti-gay Amendment 2 unconstitutional. The last two chapters look in turn at the ethics and legality of same-sex marriage and sex in public places, such as bath houses. Throughout, Nussbaum’s argument is respectful toward her opponents but always ultimately in sympathy with the rights of gay and lesbian people.
It is hard to imagine an argument that would overpower what Nussbaum has set out here, but there are a couple of points on which she might be questioned. Nussbaum presents the politics of disgust as bigotry based on unhappiness with our physicality, and this bigotry, she says, is defended intellectually by such people as Leon Kass and Patrick Devlin. In other words, she treats three things (bigotry, feelings about the human body, the philosophies of Kass and Devlin) as being closely connected without this being clearly the case. Undoubtedly there is bigotry and this is one of the main reasons why people oppose “special” (i.e. equal) rights for gay and lesbian people. But is it really so clear that this prejudice comes from discomfort at our own embodied human nature? Nussbaum makes a plausible case that it is, but it is no more than plausible. She suggests, for instance, that some heterosexual men dislike the idea of sharing a shower with gay men because: “The gaze of a homosexual male is seen as contaminating because it says, “You can be penetrated.” And this means that you can be made of feces and semen and blood, not clean plastic flesh.” [p. 19] This might be true, but surely few people would accept that this is why many women would object to sharing a shower with heterosexual men. It seems equally plausible that many people are simply uncomfortable with being the possible object of sexual desire, especially when the desiring gaze belongs to someone they do not themselves desire. Need this discomfort be a desire to deny one’s own carnality?
Nussbaum contrasts Devlin’s “politics of disgust” with J.S. Mill’s harm-based liberalism. Mill famously insists that only acts that harm others may be restricted by the law, while Devlin argues that it is legitimate to restrict liberty more than this. One example that Devlin uses is drunkenness, and we might update this example by thinking about drug abuse. Each drinker or drug-user might harm only him- or herself, Devlin thinks, but if the nation is so weakened by widespread intoxication that it cannot defend itself against Nazi aggression then something must be done. He also thinks that allowing gay sex is like allowing drink or drug use in this way. On that point his position is ludicrous, but the more general idea that Mill’s harm-principle is too liberal is much more plausible.
Another problem with the harm-principle is its ability to deal with insults. It is clearly wrong to abuse people verbally because of their race, say, or sexual orientation. Whether it should be illegal to do so is much less clear, but if I oppose public displays of swastikas on the grounds that they show disgusting insensitivity to the value of (especially Jewish and other ethnic minority) human life then I am being rather Devlinian and yet humane at the same time. This suggests that Nussbaum’s apparent identification of the politics of humanity with Millian liberalism is imperfect. Disgust might be illiberal (it is not an Enlightenment value, after all) but it is not always bigoted, conservative, or inhumane. This might not matter much, but it leaves a hole in Nussbaum’s argument in favor of giving same-sex unions the same status as other-sex unions.
At least some opponents of same-sex marriage claim to do so on the grounds that there is no sexual act that same-sex couples can engage in that is the kind of act that produces children. This, and not the mere fact that no children will in fact be produced, they say, is what makes same-sex marriages a demeaning parody of traditional marriage. This is, supposedly, what is insulting about it. However little one might share this sense of outrage, it is what some people claim to feel. Incredulity seems a reasonable response, but a refusal to believe them combined with an insistence that they can only be motivated by merely visceral disgust seems a bit much.
Deep feelings that are enshrined in such documents as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the United States Constitution are not only deeply but also almost universally felt. Opposition to gay sex and same-sex marriage is not like this. It is far from universal and seems to be evaporating from our society too quickly for it to run very deep. Its confinement to certain groups or sub-cultures makes it more like a religious belief than an insight into the universal moral law. And religious beliefs that do not rise to this level of moral insight have no place in the law of the United States. Nussbaum’s conclusion, therefore, as well as most of her argument in its defense, is perfectly correct.
© 2010 Duncan Richter
Duncan Richter, Ph.D., Virginia Military Institute