Homo / Books
Book Review: From Disgust to Humanity
by JON BROCK
on Wed, Feb 17, 2010 at 2:01 PM
"The American politics of sexual orientation, over the years, has been suffused with appeals to disgust," begins renowned philosopher Martha Nussbaum's latest book, From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation & Constitutional Law. Most people would have fallen asleep before they could read half of the title. Indeed, the subject matter is dry and rigid, but it sets aside the emotion and addresses the laws that have shaped our nation into its present state: a state where DADT and DOMA are law, but ENDA is not.
Nussbaum argues that most, if not all, discriminatory laws against the LGBT community are driven by a "politics of disgust". You couldn't find a more recent and clearer example than that of New Hampshire State Rep. Nancy Elliott when she describes anal sex between two consenting male adults. Over time, our country has shifted from being disgusted with interracial marriages (anti-miscegenation), to being disgusted with same-sex marriages. Nussbaum maintains that the legal arguments have no standing whatsoever. Just because the majority has animosity towards something does not justify outlawing it. The only exception to this would be in cases where public safety is compromised.
Several notorious constitutional law cases are recalled, such a Loving v. Virginia (1967), City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center Inc. (1985), Bower v. Hardwick (1986), Romer v. Evans (1996), and Lawrence v. Texas (2003). All of these cases were a result of disgust towards another group of people. Although the United States was founded as a nation of the people and for the people, Nussbaum quite accurately states that "[i]n the process, the opinions, full of examples of prejudice, give good reason to think that democratic majorities can't yet be trusted to put aside bigotry in order to confront this issue in a fair-minded way."
The problem that the next wave of LGBT activists face is a lack of historical understanding. It's easy to get emotional and demand equal rights now. It is. The downside is that in reality law must trump emotion. That being said, this book is an important weapon against those who seek to deny us our rights. Read it. Use it.