Moral Disgust or Religious Conviction: Opposition to Gay Rights in America
Posted: 22 Feb 2011
The language of contamination and pollution has long been used to ostracize members of out-groups, and the situation of gay and lesbian individuals in the United States today is no exception. Scholars have argued that this form of body politics is extremely powerful because it draws on feeling of disgust. Recent work in moral psychology has found that disgust is a moral sentiment. In other words, what people find disgusting, they are inclined to condemn. Research has also found that moral judgment of sexual behaviors in particular is driven by disgust. In contrast, the conventional wisdom holds that opposition to gay rights policies, such as gay marriage, gay adoption, and ending "don't ask, don't tell," is primarily driven by religious beliefs. In this paper, we provide the first rigorous empirical test of the hypothesis that feelings of disgust, as opposed to the conventional explanation, influence opposition to these policies. To do so, we present results from a nationally representative survey that includes measures of support for gay rights policies, relevant religious beliefs, and novel measures of disgust sensitivity that have been developed by moral psychologists. We also present results from a experiment comparing responses to questions that refer to 'gays and lesbians' versus questions that refer to 'homosexuals.' This analysis provides new insight into the body politics strategy of gay rights opponents, and why that strategy has often proved to be effective.
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