Thursday 28 February 2013

Review: What's Wrong With Homosexuality? By John Corvino

Being primarily a fiction kinda girl, this isn't the type of book I usually read, but I was browsing Netgalley one day and let's just say the title grabbed my attention. I clicked through to read the description, prepared to be outraged, and was somewhat relieved to see that the book is actually written by a gay rights advocate and philosopher who also happens to be a homosexual man himself.

Of course, in answering the question of the title, “What's wrong with homosexuality?”, Corvino could just simply state: “nothing”, but that's the short answer and this book seeks to look at the bigger picture, and examine why there's nothing wrong with it. Chapter by chapter, Corvino systematically addresses all of the arguments commonly used against homosexuality in general and same-sex marriage in particular and essentially decimates them. He does so in such a logical, even-handed and engaging manner that it's not only easy to read and digest, it makes his argument all the more powerful. While being very open about his own very personal stake in the issue, he approaches each topic in a remarkably objective way, backing up his statements with evidence and combining it with his own experience only when appropriate. The subjectivity inherent in the latter aspect could have weakened his argument but, as used sparingly here, it actually strengthens it, powerfully reinforcing the importance of homosexual rights and the effects the lack of them can have on people's lives.

What I found most fascinating, in terms of the anecdotes Corvino describes, was his relationship with Glenn Stanton, an evangelical Christian who vocally opposes same-sex marriage. The two frequently travel together for debates on the issue, and despite their fundamentally different beliefs, actually consider each other friends. The story that particularly struck me was Corvino's account of when he told Stanton about his intended commitment ceremony with his partner, Mark, and Stanton wished him a hearty and sincere congratulations. It just boggles my mind that people like Stanton count gay people amongst their friends, and actually wish those friends well in their relationships, but then turn around and say how wrong those relationships are. For Corvino, it's a sign that he's getting through; that things will change, even in the minds of the most strident opposers of same-sex marriage. But I'm not so sure – to me it feels like if such a friendship still hasn't gotten through to these people, then it seems nothing will.

Perhaps it's the fence-sitters who will be persuaded, and maybe that's what counts. If anything was going to persuade them, it would probably be this book. The title works in making it appear that it could be arguing against the very thing it's in support of, and so perhaps it will challenge people who turn to it looking to have their views reaffirmed and instead find quite the opposite. But again I worry that if someone like Stanton - who knows and likes Corvino personally and has heard his arguments many times - can't be persuaded, then few can.

Still, even if it is mainly preaching to the converted, What's Wrong with Homosexuality? provides a useful and enlightening discussion on the arguments relating to same-sex marriage, and empowers the reader with plenty of facts and persuasive points in favour of it. This was what initially attracted me to reading it; especially the chapter on the biblical arguments against homosexuality, as these are what I've primarily encountered in real life and also the ones I have felt least able to intelligently argue against, not having read the Bible myself. Corvino quotes and analyses each of the references to homosexuality found in the Bible, examining ways they may have been misinterpreted (eg: Sodom's sin is inhospitality/aggression against heavenly creatures, not homosexuality) or become outdated (“If you adopt a simplistic 'God said it' approach to the [Bible], then be prepared to swallow some pretty nasty conclusions about slavery, women, and so on. If, instead, you insist on sensitivity to historical and cultural context, then the homosexuality passages must be reexamined in that light”). Because of the encounters I've had with certain people using their religion as an excuse for their homophobia (amongst other things), and my own lack of knowledge on biblical matters, I found this chapter to be incredibly fascinating and enlightening.

Indeed, the whole book is, though much of the rest contains arguments and conclusions I've heard of/come to before. Still, it's important that they're said, and said well; as he does with the biblical chapter, Corvino eviscerates the notions that homosexuality and same-sex marriage are wrong based on the risks, the “unnaturalness” or the “slippery slope” (you know, the ridiculous idea that “if man marries man, what's next?! Man marries dog?!” Because two consenting adults is totally the same thing as bestiality, uh-huh).

Importantly, What's Wrong with Homosexuality? never feels like it's sermonising or lecturing. It remains conversational throughout, and it's clear that Corvino wants to engage the reader and talk to them and with them, rather than down to them. Even for someone who isn't a massive non-fiction reader, I found this book to be extremely interesting, engaging and yes, even enjoyable. I came away feeling more informed, more fired up and frankly, more touched than I thought I would be. Because what this book highlights most of all is that, at its very root, this argument is one of love and compassion – and it cannot be won without those things.

Rating: 4/5

Fine Print
Published: March 1, 2013, by Oxford University Press
Source: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.
Get It: Book Depository


  1. I think I would enjoy this, but the author would be preaching to the converted with me. Hopefully some fence-sitters will be persuaded.

  2. Glad you decided to review this - it sounds awesome! I also hope some on-the-fencers will read it! Just from what I've read of your review, it sounds like it has a ton of really great points <3.

    1. It was very informative, definitely worth a read.

  3. Amazing review. Obviously this book brought out a lot of thoughts and emotions and that makes me very interested in reading it. I love a book that can make you just want to talk and talk about it for hours. It would be hard to be friends with someone who has completely different views then you... I applaud Corvino!

    1. Thanks! It is definitely a conversatio starter. I'm pretty amazed at his friendship with the other guy. I guess you can like people even if you don't agree with them on everything - but this is such a fundamental difference!

  4. Oh, Belle, this is a splendid review. What you said here... wow.
    "I came away feeling more informed, more fired up and frankly, more touched than I thought I would be. Because what this book highlights most of all is that, at its very root, this argument is one of love and compassion – and it cannot be won without those things."