From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law

From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law

From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law

From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law

Synopsis

A distinguished professor of law and philosophy at the University of Chicago, a prolific writer and award-winning thinker, Martha Nussbaum stands as one of our foremost authorities on law, justice, freedom, morality, and emotion. In From Disgust to Humanity, Nussbaum aims her considerable intellectual firepower at the bulwark of opposition to gay equality: the politics of disgust.

Nussbaum argues that disgust has long been among the fundamental motivations of those who are fighting for legal discrimination against lesbian and gay citizens. When confronted with same-sex acts and relationships, she writes, they experience "a deep aversion akin to that inspired by bodily wastes, slimy insects, and spoiled food--and then cite that very reaction to justify a range of legal restrictions, from sodomy laws to bans on same-sex marriage." Leon Kass, former head of President Bush's President's Council on Bioethics, even argues that this repugnance has an inherent "wisdom," steering us away from destructive choices. Nussbaum believes that the politics of disgust must be confronted directly, for it contradicts the basic principle of the equality of all citizens under the law. "It says that the mere fact that you happen to make me want to vomit is reason enough for me to treat you as a social pariah, denying you some of your most basic entitlements as a citizen." In its place she offers a "politics of humanity," based not merely on respect, but something akin to love, an uplifting imaginative engagement with others, an active effort to see the world from their perspectives, as fellow human beings. Combining rigorous analysis of the leading constitutional cases with philosophical reflection about underlying concepts of privacy, respect, discrimination, and liberty, Nussbaum discusses issues ranging from non-discrimination and same-sex marriage to "public sex." Recent landmark decisions suggest that the views of state and federal courts are shifting toward a humanity-centered vision, and Nussbaum's powerful arguments will undoubtedly advance that cause.

Incisive, rigorous, and deeply humane,From Disgust to Humanityis a stunning contribution to Oxford's distinguished Inalienable Rights series.

Excerpt

“When I was in the eighth grade I realized what all the male fantasies that I had were about and that they were sticking and that I had to deal with them. I was terrified.” That’s what one gay man told social psychologist Ritch Savin-Williams, whose pathbreaking study of gay male adolescence contains dozens of similar stories. The young man was terrified, of course, because he knew he was in for a difficult future in American society. To some extent, too, he had internalized society’s attitudes: a student at an evangelical school, he had learned to feel horror and disgust at the behavior he desired and to think of it as base or animalistic, not suited to the full dignity of a human being. Many other gay youths interviewed by SavinWilliams felt fine about their feelings—and yet they, too, knew that they had a difficult road ahead, since many people, if not they themselves, would regard their desires and acts with disgust. “I knew that this was… the path that I wanted,” writes another young man about his early sexual experiences with other male teens, “and I knew that I was on it. I knew that others could sort of experience what I was and I knew that other people would think of it as being disgusting.”

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