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.
Subscribe to comments with RSS.
Comments are closed.