the emergence of gay rights: a sociological perspective


On Friday, the Supreme Court rules that marriage should be available straight and gay couples in all 50 states. This represents the most important policy victory so far of the gay rights movement. How did it get there? Future scholars will no doubt write extensively on this issue, but it helps to start with political science 101: social change starts with the median voter. Courts, in general, do not create rights. Rather, courts tend to codify and formalize the political rights that people are already willing to accept.

The graph is taken from an article in the Gallup web site and it drives home this point about public opinion. Somewhere around 2011, the public tipped in favor of gay rights. Not surprisingly, courts and states became more likely to support gay rights after this point. The question is, why did public opinion tip? When I think about this question, I often start with the “repetition hypothesis” – repeat your point enough and your previously weird idea will become normal (i.e., you shift from non-doxa to doxa, for you Bourdieu nuts). Dorf and Tarrow discuss how gay rights groups thought about this process in this Law and Social Inquiry article. Basically, they anticipated conservative push back to their views on gay marriage and crafted their appeals with that in mind.

Bottom line: Lawyers and Supreme Courts are the end game. The battle is won and lost in the arena of public opinion.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

June 29, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, social movements

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. It also helps that lawyers can recognize an expansion of their franchise. More marriage=more divorce. More divorce means more lawyer’s fees plus more court-based redistribution of wealth. Whatever the moral arguments, you usually don’t get change unless some party or another sees how it will benefit them.



    June 29, 2015 at 1:55 pm

  2. If Fabio’s last comment is accurate re: public opinion, why do the dominant social movement theories / frameworks hardly mention it? I’ve always felt this is a neglected but crucial player in the process. PoliSci and media research seem to have a larger appreciation for PO but an apparent lack of interest in theory building. Is this surmise valid? If so, how can PO be integrated into established, well-regarded theories of social movements?


    Chris Pieper

    June 29, 2015 at 4:18 pm

  3. Gay rights and gay sexuality may became a part of a modern western paradigm based on steady confrontation with the difference and, as mentioned, an integration of gay sexuality into the identity structures. I think it’s a part of an association with a modern western culture (and even economy) which has to handle with a lot of conflicts and differences. It includes “others” because of more conflicting information (result of a democratic process and information access on the web) which constructed a new value system (which doesn’t mean this new value system is more tolerant – it just transfers reactions and morality to new objects).



    June 30, 2015 at 12:41 pm

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: