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2010 Levin Family Dean's Forum: A Celebration of Intellectual Excellence. "Same-Sex Marriage: Beyond the Politics of Disgust" by Dr. Martha Nussbaum

When Martha Nussbaum took the stage, she tried to define the elusive term, “the politics of disgust.”

“We can’t make policies based on disgust. We have to make policies based on more than that because disgust only leads to hate,” she said, speaking to 495 students, faculty and parents of all ages, backgrounds and sexuality in Zellerbach Theater last night about the same-sex marriage rights issue in America.

But it seemed like she was talking about more.

Nussbaum, professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago and author of her most recent book, From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law, began her lecture by discussing types of couples whose marriages the American society approves of.

She praised the political and social progress Americans have made in the past decade, concerning same-sex marriage rights. However, she stressed more progress must be made in the future.

Each year, the Levin Family Dean’s Forum, host of last night’s event, invites a nationally recognized scholar in the liberal arts field to speak. The forum has been celebrating the arts and sciences for over two decades.

“The forum is an opportunity for the School of Arts and Sciences dean to spotlight contributions of experts,” said Loraine Boehmcke, director of public relations in the School of Arts and Sciences and organizer of the lecture. “It’s also an opportunity to highlight excellence in arts and sciences by students at the University.”

The event began by honoring 10 undergraduates and 10 graduates from different liberal arts programs for their academic achievements in the College of Arts and Sciences.

During her lecture, Nussbaum recognized the religious and public arguments against same-sex marriage, and she questioned whether or not dissenters are discussing the issue in “a neutral language or a textual and doctrinal language.”

She emphasized how religious arguments against same-sex marriage should not serve as blanket policy for all Americans outside of the religion’s denomination. She compared these current religious arguments to a hypothetical situation in which Jews prohibit all Americans from eating pork.

Nussbaum then addressed the public arguments against same-sex marriage. She dispelled arguments that same-sex marriages could not practice procreation because the state cannot and does not limit marriage status to couples that plan to and do have children.

She continued by addressing the argument that same-sex marriages would strain the tradition of marriage. Nussbaum argued the tradition of marriage is not and will not be sullied by same-sex marriages because such assumption is rooted in myth.

Nussbaum concluded her lecture by highlighting that the right for marriage must be “offered with even hand” because it’s unconstitutional “to fence certain groups out of constitutional rights.”

Finally, Nussbaum opened the floor to questions from students and other audience members.

“I hope the lecture and the event helps students engage with the speaker and the subject,” Boehmcke said. “It’s great to see students inspired by this type of interaction, and we hope they leave today with a desire to further pursue their liberal arts passions.”

Recipient of one of the 2010 Dean’s Scholars awards and College senior Luv Patel said he was very much interested in the lecture. “I better understand now how policy makers really can’t use disgust as political reasoning,” he said. “Nussbaum made that very clear.”

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