Effects of Same-Sex Legislation on Attitudes toward Homosexuality

Published date01 September 2018
Date01 September 2018
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18kRCaWfCdzdx5/input 753077PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917753077Political Research QuarterlyRedman
Political Research Quarterly
2018, Vol. 71(3) 628 –641
Effects of Same-Sex Legislation on
© 2018 University of Utah
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Attitudes toward Homosexuality
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917753077
Shane M. Redman1
Despite the long historical battle of members of the gay and lesbian community to gain equal rights as their heterosexual
counterparts, the adoption of public policies at the national level that recognize same-sex partnerships and marriages
is a relatively recent political development across the globe. Consequently, we know little about whether, and how,
this type of legislation affects public attitudes toward homosexuality. This study examines the relationship between
same-sex couple legislation and public opinion using data from the World Values Survey from the years 1989 to 2014.
While previous studies examining this relationship in the European context have found a positive relationship, the
results presented in this paper paint a less optimistic picture of the impacts that same-sex couple legislation has on
attitudes toward homosexuality. Specifically, I find that instead of same-sex partnership legislation increasing favorable
attitudes across the entire population, it only affects individuals who are already generally supportive of homosexuality.
Implications for gay and lesbian rights are discussed.
public opinion, public policy, sexuality politics, same-sex marriage, LGBT rights
when the context is expanded to include countries outside
of Europe.
While the legal recognition of same-sex marriage at the
In this paper, I address the question of how same-sex
federal level is relatively new in the United States, other
partnership legislation affects public opinion toward
countries across the world have a much longer history of
homosexuality. From an empirical viewpoint, being able
granting gays and lesbians the right to marry. The
to include a greater number of countries in the estima-
Netherlands was the first country in the world to grant
tions gives us greater power to determine whether trends
legal recognition of same-sex marriage in 2000. Since
that have been found to exist in one geographic region are
then, twenty-one other countries have done the same.1
also present in other types of societies. From a more prac-
However, even before recognizing same-sex marriage,
tical perspective, answering this question is important to
many countries granted legal recognition to same-sex
understanding the societal acceptance of an historically
partnerships, with Denmark being the first country to do
disadvantaged group with a long history of political and
this in 1989. Since then, just over two dozen other coun-
social discrimination. If the legal recognition of same-sex
tries have done the same.2
couples increases favorable attitudes toward these indi-
Given the relative dearth of same-sex partnership leg-
viduals, it suggests that the societal position of gays and
islation across the world, there are few cross-national
lesbians may increase more rapidly than it otherwise
empirical studies that examine the effects of such legisla-
would as more countries begin passing such legislation.
tion on public attitudes (but see Hooghe and Meeusen
Moreover, it shows that political elites do not necessarily
2013; Takács and Szalma 2011; van den Akker, van der
need to wait for societal attitudes to catch up to potential
Ploeg, and Scheepers 2013). Moreover, as the majority of
legislation before it is introduced and adopted. Instead, it
this legislation has been passed in European countries,
suggests that elites can have a significant influence on
previous cross-national studies focus almost exclusively
on Europe while ignoring the rest of the world. However,
given the increasing expansion of same-sex couple recog-
1University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA
nition in other parts of the world, we can begin to exam-
ine a greater number of countries to test whether trends
Corresponding Author:
Shane M. Redman, Department of Political Science, University of
and relationships involving same-sex couple legislation
Pittsburgh, 4600 Wesley W. Posvar Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.
and public opinion that have been found in Europe hold
Email: smr105@pitt.edu

societal attitudes simply by passing certain types of legis-
In addition to rising education levels and increased secu-
lation. However, if this type of legislation has no impact
larization, Inglehart (2008) argues that a change in soci-
or a negative impact (i.e., a backlash effect) on public
etal values from traditionalism to postmodernism has also
attitudes, then the future for increased acceptance of
contributed to greater acceptance of homosexuality.
homosexuals across the world is much bleaker. As
Finally, Kollman (2007) suggests that increased activities
Hooghe and Meeusen (2013, 260) explain,
and visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
(LGBT) movements and organizations also help explain
If we do not find any relation, this would suggest that the
the decline in prejudice.
introduction of same-sex marriage or registered partnership
In addition, scholars have found several other predic-
is mainly an elite process, involving political decision
tors of tolerance toward homosexuality. At the individual
makers and political activists, but without any obvious
level, gender (Andersen and Fetner 2008; Cullen, Wright,
relation to public opinion.
and Alessandri 2002; Kite and Whitley 1996), social net-
work (Cullen, Wright, and Alessandri 2002), religiosity
This paper proceeds first with a discussion of histori-
(Hooghe and Meeusen 2013; van den Akker, van der
cal trends in attitudes toward gays and lesbians. Next, I
Ploeg, and Scheepers 2013), partisanship (Bishin et al.
present the theory and hypotheses, which I derive from
2016), marital status (van den Akker, van der Ploeg, and
the literature that examines the effects of legislation on
Scheepers 2013), and age (Andersen and Fetner 2008;
public attitudes, including opinion backlash. I then dis-
Hooghe and Meeusen 2013; van den Akker, van der
cuss the data and methods by which I test the hypotheses,
Ploeg, and Scheepers 2013) influence one’s attitudes
followed by a discussion of the results. I conclude with a
toward homosexuality. At the national level, economic
discussion of the implications these findings have for gay
development (Andersen and Fetner 2008), democratic
and lesbian rights and potential avenues for future
stability (Hooghe and Meeusen 2013), and a country’s
research in this area.
religious composition (van den Akker, van der Ploeg, and
Scheepers 2013) also affect these attitudes.
Attitudes toward Homosexuality
Gays and lesbians have a long history of being discrimi-
Legislation Effects on Attitudes
nated against across all cultures in the world. Despite
As Hooghe and Meeusen (2013) point out, much of the
being culturally accepted during the Greek and Roman
extant literature that examines attitudes toward homo-
Era, homosexuality was eventually condemned with the
sexuals focuses strictly on broad social changes in public
rise of Christianity (Geneseo at The State University of
opinion rather than on the causes or effects of same-sex
New York 1997), with many individuals and groups cit-
partnership legislation. However, as more countries have
ing religious morality as a justification for discrimination
begun passing this type of legislation over the past sev-
against homosexuals, even in the modern era (Herek
eral decades, a few scholars have recently been able to
1991). Eventually, medical groups transformed the sin of
examine the effects of such legislation on public opinion.
homosexuality into a mental illness. It was not until 1992
It should be noted, though, that of the few cross-national
that the World Health Organization removed homosexu-
empirical studies that examine the relationship between
ality from its International Classification of Diseases
same-sex couple legislation and public attitudes, all focus
(Burton 2015).
exclusively on European countries and examine a rela-
Despite the long history of prejudice against these
tively short period of time in the early 2000s. Hooghe and
individuals, scholars have found that negative attitudes
Meeusen (2013) investigate this relationship across
toward gays and lesbians have been declining at a rela-
twenty-nine European countries between 2002 and 2010.
tively consistent rate in recent decades due to several
They find that there is indeed a correlation between pub-
other changes taking place, at least in Western societies
lic opinion toward gays and lesbians and the level of
(Gibson 2007; Scott 1998). Two factors that have been
same-sex legislation that a country has adopted, although
found to partially explain the decline in prejudice is the
the authors are unable to make causal claims. Similarly,
increase in education and the decline of strict religious
Takács and Szalma (2011) examine twenty-six European
adherence. Jaspers, Lubbers, and De Graaf (2007) argue
countries between 2002 and 2008 and find that social
that the increase in secularization and increasing levels of
acceptance of gays and...

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