Book Review: What’s Wrong with Homosexuality, by John Corvino

I would have subtitled John Corvino’s What’s Wrong with Homosexuality? “How to Argue with a Homophobe–And Win!.” At its core, this nonfiction treatise on gay rights outlines the most popular arguments against the gay rights movement, and dismantles them handily.

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Corvino is a professor of philosophy, and it shows in his writing. He is careful, logical, and successfully follows arguments to their root by asking “why?”. (It should also be said that this book is very, very readable–Corvino’s style is more conversational than formal!) His approach appreciated the nuances of each argument against gay rights, including “it’s not natural” and “the Bible says it’s bad, so it’s bad,” and addressed each one from a moral standpoint. I found his arguments against biblical condemnation of homosexuality perhaps the most interesting and the most helpful, as it seems to be one of the most pervasive strains, at least in U.S. discourse. I have a very limited knowledge of Christian texts, and Corvino’s ability to cite from and analyze Biblical passages was extremely helpful. One very telling part of the chapter has Corvino providing more than 10 different translations of the same passage about Sodom and Gomorrah, both showing the way the language evolves (as the translators become more and more modern) and how it can actually be quite difficult to pin down definitive definitions of certain words.

Corvino is also careful not to demonize (a word he feels strongly about) the opposition. He considers Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family a friend, and can have civil debates with him. This absolutely boggled my mind. Not to get political, but…I’m about to get political, so look away if politicking talk makes steam shoot out of your ears. (Sorry I’m not sorry!) I consider myself a progressive liberal, and it is very, very hard for me to separate my political beliefs from my personality and identity. I do not have very many Republican or conservative friends, and those who I do have are friends from childhood whose Facebook posts I hid on my newsfeed long ago. I feel that our values differ too substantially for any sort of close or personal relationship to exist. But Corvino is somehow able to remain friendly with people who literally think he is following the will of Satan, and presses them in their beliefs without being condescending or increduous. Corvino is a stronger person than I. Pretty sure if someone told me to my face that I deserved to burn in hell, I wouldn’t be too civil in my response…

This was “only” a four star read for me because I felt that race (and racism) were not treated with the same depth and respect as gay-rights supporters and the same-sex marriage struggle were. Admittedly, these were not the foci of the book, and Corvino says as much; he also explains that the book is not meant to cover the struggles of the entire LGBTQ community. And yet…I suppose it’s a bit essentialist of me, but some things are always, always wrong. Sure, you can try to be sympathetic, to understand the cultural context and the societal mores of the time, but to attribute casual racism in the United States to “a blind spot” is bizarre. It’s apologist, frankly, and Corvino’s attributing of these views to his grandparents seems to ignore the fact that institutional and other forms of racism still exist.  From an author who otherwise seems very sensitive and progressive, this “blind spot” was a hard pill to swallow.

For a well-reasoned and deeply-researched text on the moral arguments for marriage equality, What’s Wrong with Homosexuality? more than fits the bill. I think it’s an essential read for anyone who considers themselves allies of the gay rights movement, and a morally-imperative read for those people who think homosexuality is wrong/a choice/unnatural. I myself would definitely read more of Corvino’s clear and concise philosophical arguments in the future.

I received What’s Wrong with Homosexuality? free for review from publisher Oxford University Press through Netgalley. It will be published March 1, 2013.

Bookwanderer Rating: Four out of five stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: “When a taboo interferes with people’s happiness with no apparent justification, it is probably time to rethink it. Traditions have value, but do too does the process of ongoing moral reflection.”

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