How LGBT Legislators Enhance Gay Rights

by John Sides on June 27, 2013 · 1 comment

in Legislative Politics

Given the SCOTUS decisions yesterday on same-sex marriage, the arena shifts even more to the individual states.  In light of that, I thought this article was worth highlighting:

This article focuses on the link between the representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in national legislatures and the existence of equality laws focused on sexual orientation…It finds that the presence of even a small number of openly gay legislators is associated significantly with the future passage of enhanced gay rights, even after including controls for social values, democracy, government ideology, and electoral system design. Once openly gay legislators are in office they have a transformative effect on the views and voting behavior of their straight colleagues. This “familiarity through presence” effect is echoed in studies of U.S. state legislatures and levels of social tolerance of homosexuality in the population at large.

Here is an ungated copy of the article, by political scientist Andrew Reynolds of UNC-Chapel Hill.  Here is an earlier press release.

{ 1 comment }

RobC June 27, 2013 at 12:36 pm

I was curious to find out how Reynolds’ study of “67 openly gay legislators or members of parliaments (MPs) in the 18 countries at the end of 2008, compared with 22 in 1998″ controlled for the possibility that the number of LGBT legislators and the willingness of legislatures to pass “gay-friendly policies” might both be a result of societal attitudes toward gays.

To a degree, Reynolds addresses this issue at p. 9:

But does a nation implement progressive laws when its parliament includes a handful of dynamic and persuasive openly gay MPs? Or are we more likely to see openly gay MPs in a polity that has already demonstrated its commitment to equality through progressive laws that were initially promoted and passed by straight legislators?

(I’d prefer that second possibility to be revised to ask whether we are more likely to see openly gay MPs in a polity in which societal attitudes toward LGBT individuals have become more accepting and whether that same attitude of acceptance also causes legislatures to be more likely to pass “gay-friendly policies.”

Reynolds’ attempt to answer these questions (at pp. 9-10) seems to me unsatisfactory, but perhaps that’s because I don’t fully appreciate the statistical treatments he applies. It would be swell if others here who are more attuned to such matters would weigh in.

Here’s my challenge, however. Let’s apply to Reynolds’ methodology the same skepticism and rigor we’d demand if he were trying to demonstrate differences in intelligence or performance among races or ethnic groups or genders, or effect of debt levels on economic growth, or something else that runs counter to the consensus view of the academy.

There’s a joke you may know about buying chickens that ends, “Even Miss America couldn’t pass that test.” My suspicion is that if we were to apply that level of skepticism and rigor, Reynolds’ research couldn’t pass that test.

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