Same Sex, Different Politics: Success and Failure in the Struggles over Gay Rights

Same Sex, Different Politics: Success and Failure in the Struggles over Gay Rights

Same Sex, Different Politics: Success and Failure in the Struggles over Gay Rights

Same Sex, Different Politics: Success and Failure in the Struggles over Gay Rights

Synopsis

Why is it so much harder for American same-sex couples to get married than it is for them to adopt children? And why does our military prevent gays from serving openly even though jurisdictions nationwide continue to render such discrimination illegal? Illuminating the conditions that engender these contradictory policies, Same Sex, Different Politics explains why gay rights advocates have achieved dramatically different levels of success from one policy area to another. The first book to compare results across a wide range of gay rights struggles, this volume explores debates over laws governing military service, homosexual conduct, adoption, marriage and partner recognition, hate crimes, and civil rights. It reveals that in each area, the gay rights movement's achievements depend both on Americans' perceptions of its demands and on the political venue in which the conflict plays out. Adoption policy, for example, generally takes shape in a decentralized system of courts that enables couples to target sympathetic judges, while fights for gay marriage generally culminate in legislation or ballot referenda against which it is easier to mount opposition. Brilliantly synthesizing all the factors that contribute to each kind of outcome, Same Sex, Different Politics establishes a new framework for understanding the trajectory of a movement.

Excerpt

My interest in the politics of gay rights began in earnest in the late 1990s. At the time, political scientists had just started to explore the topic seriously. For years, many individuals who were most likely to write on the subject, like me, were in the closet and worried that they would “out” themselves by undertaking such research. But in the past ffteen years we have witnessed a profusion of important works on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights politics. We now have several studies that explain why states and localities adopt or fail to adopt gay rights measures. Other works examine the emergence, goals, strategies, and tactics of the gay rights movement. What the literature lacks is a broad exploration of why the movement has succeeded in reaching some of its public policy goals more than others. My initial acquaintance with the evolution of gay rights politics suggested a number of public policy puzzles. For example, why do Americans make it easier for gay couples to adopt children than to marry? Why do we continue to exclude gays from serving openly in the military, even though almost all other democratic nations have lifted their bans and Americans have outlawed employment discrimination where most of us live? How did gays and lesbians repeal laws in all fifty states that criminalized homosexual conduct despite the public's lingering discomfort with gay sexual conduct and a fair amount of opposition to decriminalization?

This study breaks new ground by treating differences among gay rights issues as important in understanding the movement's successes and failures. I argue that what gay rights supporters seek to achieve greatly determines their chances for political success. The gay rights movement has been more successful in some areas than others because of the very different politics that exist from one issue arena to the next. This book is the first to use a general model to compare and contrast gay rights struggles across several issue areas. Drawing upon data from public opinion polls, legislative debates, media coverage, and other sources, the study focuses on six key policy issues—military service, discrimination in the marketplace, adoption, hate crimes, marriage and partner recognition, and the repeal of sodomy laws. The title, Different Politics, refers to the distinct kinds of political conflict and levels of success that characterize each issue as the gay rights agenda has grown more diverse. “Different” also draws attention to . . .

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