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Title: SEX, MORALITY, AND THE LAW, by Lori Gruen and George E.
Category: Law and Sexuality
Reviewed by Eileen L. McDonagh, Dept of Political Science,
LAW AND POLITICS BOOK REVIEW
Vol. 8 No. 8 (August 1998) pp. 316-317.
An Electronic Periodical Published by
The Law and Courts Section
The American Political Science Association
Herbert Jacob, Founding Editor
C. Neal Tate, Editor
Toulouse School of Graduate Studies
University of North Texas
Denton, TX 76203-5459
Ayo Ogundele and John Francis Ryan, Administrative Assistants
The Law and Politics Book Review is published on the UNT-LPBR
list from the University of North Texas. This is a moderated
list and does not accept any messages except via the editor.
Please send all comments and questions to Neal Tate via E-mail:
SEX, MORALITY, AND THE LAW, by Lori Gruen and George E. Panichas
(editors). New York: Routledge, 1997. 454 pages. Hardcover
$65.00, Paper $22.95. ISBN 0-415-91636-4.
Reviewed by Eileen L. McDonagh, Dept of Political Science,
Northeastern University. Email: Northeastern University. Email: EMCD@neu.edu.
SEX, MORALITY, AND THE LAW, edited by Lori Gruen and George E.
Panichas, is an interesting and innovative contribution to
interdisciplinary literature focusing on the intersection of law and
society. In this volume, the editors define the topical subject, "sex,"
to include same-sex activity, commercial sexual encounters, reproductive
decisions, and sexual self- determination. Their primary concern is to
produce a counterbalance to the irrational, contentious, and contradictory
public discourse generated by a society all but saturated by sex. They
seek to do by presenting "calmer, more careful assessments of matters of
intimate concern" (p. v).
Their method for providing an antidote to the way "irrational
prejudices and unfounded beliefs about sex and sexuality impede the
creation and implementation of rational social and legal policies" is to
explore relationships between social mores, philosophical perspectives,
and court decision-making. They do so by juxtaposing scholarly writings
representing diverse intellectual disciplines--including moral philosophy,
history, and constitutional law--with excerpts from key court cases
dealing with the wide range of issues involving sexuality. In addition to
these materials, the authors offer several organizing typologies to
structure their analyses of how society and law deal with sexuality.
The authors, for example, define three major perspectives in the
social and legal debates regarding sexuality as being liberal,
conservative, and feminist traditions. True to the spirit of John Stuart
Mill, in the liberal tradition, the main criterion used to determine the
parameters of permissible sexual activity is that the state should not
exercise its power by interfering with the choices or conduct of people
unless those choices or conduct threaten or constitute harm to others. By
contrast, the authors define the conservative tradition as a view that
justifies state interference in citizens' conduct when necessary to
maintain a "certain social climate and moral tone," to preserve
historical and cultural traditions, to protect and promote public opinion
and values, or to protect the individual from self-inflicted harm (p. vi).
The authors view the liberal and conservatives traditions as central to
the framing of legal concepts and precedents, even though they view these
positions as inherently incompatible in relation to each other. In
addition, the authors define the third tradition, feminist analyses, as
one that uncovers how both liberal and conservative traditions can foster
the subordination of women by means of sex and sexuality.
The authors use a liberal criterion to organize their presentation
of topics, namely, whether the sexual activity in question harms another
person. On the basis of this standard, the six sections of their edited
volume encompass the following
Page 317 follows:
sequence of topics: lesbian and gay sex, prostitution, pornography,
abortion, sexual harassment, and rape. The authors' liberal contention is
that one end of the continuum, consensual lesbian and gay sex, does not
harm others, in contrast to the other end of the continuum, rape, which
clearly does. The idea of ranking topics in this way is an interesting
one, but the authors do not explain why they used only a liberal
criterion. Nor do they provide any discussion about how different
traditions would produce dissimilar rankings. If the authors' had used
the conservative tradition, for example, and sequenced topics in terms of
public perceptions of morality in relation to sexual activities or the
historical acceptance of particular sexual activities, presumably, the
relative placement of topics would be altered.
As with any ambitious attempt to bridge disciplines, of course,
the very strength of the book in furnishing diverse viewpoints under one
cover also somewhat undercuts its success. Although the authors claim
that they will be presenting liberal, conservative, and feminist
perspectives on the range of sexual topics selected for the volume, in
more than a few instances the excerpts selected differ from each other
more in terms of nuance and emphasis rather than in terms of different
world views. Although there are ways this volume could have been
improved, it is nevertheless certain to be a useful addition for
undergraduate courses in moral philosophy and ethics and for undergraduate
political science courses concerned with law and society perspectives
and/or gender issues in relation to law and politics.
Copyright 1998 by the author. Readers may redistribute this article to
other individuals for noncommerical use, provided that the text and this
notice remain intact and unaltered in any way. This article may not be
resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without
prior permission from the author. If you have any questions about
permissions, please contact C. Neal Tate, Editor, THE LAW AND POLITICS
BOOK REVIEW (firstname.lastname@example.org), Toulouse School of Graduate Studies,
University of North Texas,Denton,TX 76203-5459 or by phone at (940)
565-3946 or (940) 369-7486 (fax).
Previously published reviews may be obtained at the Law & Politics Book
Review web site: http://www.unt.edu/lpbr/
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