Teaching Democracies New Tricks: Same-Sex Unions and the Power of Social Learning

Thursday, July 13, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - Room 656A (University of Glasgow)
Kelly Kollman , Politics, University of Glasgow
Phillip Ayoub , Deptartment of Politics, Drexel University
Since 1989 the vast majority of democracies in North America and Europe have implemented national same-sex unions (SSU) policies that recognize such couples in law. The United States was one of the last established western democracies to implement such a law at the national level. A number of scholars have sought to explain why a country that gave rise to ‘gay pride’ in the 1970s became a laggard in LGBT rights expansion in the 1990s and early 2000s. In this paper we seek to challenge the idea that the underlying political dynamics of SSU recognition differ significantly in Europe and the US. We posit that in both regions the diffusion of SSU policies has been significantly influenced and accelerated by processes of social learning from early adopters. While certain domestic cultural, institutional and movement variables can act as brakes to SSU adoption, they rarely act as complete barriers to reform in the face of widespread diffusion of salient policies. US policymakers do seem to differ from their European counterparts in one key aspect, however; namely from whom they are willing to learn. Whereas European and other North American countries take inspiration from countries across the globe, policymakers in the US tend only to take their cues from jurisdictions within the US itself, primarily other US states. We test these hypotheses using event history analysis and an original dataset that contains measures for the 50 US states and 28 EU countries (1985-2015).