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Article

Brazil’s Evangelical Caucus  

Pedro A. G. Dos Santos and Linsey Moddelmog

Established in 2003, the Frente Parlamentar Evangélica no Congresso Nacional (National Evangelical Front in the National Congress) unites evangelical members of the Brazilian National Congress to pursue political agendas informed by their shared religious beliefs, as opposed to traditional party affiliation or political coalition. The rise in power and influence of the Evangelical Caucus is related to the transformation of Brazilian society from centuries of Catholic dominance to an early 21st century where around one-quarter of the population identifies as evangelical. Even though this group is known for its heterogeneity, as the Evangelical Caucus continues to increase in numbers and influence, the group may be able to better influence policymaking related to morality politics and views shared among evangelical Christian voters.

Article

Democratic Rollback in Africa  

Lise Rakner

There is a global trend of democratic retrenchment across the world, in both new and more established democracies. The African continent is part of the trend, although there are distinct regional variances on the continent. Yet, despite democratic gains in some states and along some dimensions of democratic rights, the overall trend is that the democratic gains won in the period after 1990 are now eroding. Democracy is challenged in ways that pose threats to freedom of speech, association, and information, the ability to choose political leaders, protection of personal integrity and private life, and the rule of law with recourse to independent courts. As part of a global trend of democratic backsliding, African states have adopted legal restrictions on key civil and political rights that form the basis of democratic rule in a range of countries, from dominant party regimes such as Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Tanzania to competitive electoral democracies like Zambia, Senegal, and Malawi. In South Africa, where democracy and rule of law appear deeply institutionalized, the succession battles and exposed levels of corruption under President Zuma, now removed from the leadership of the ANC party, suggest a weakening of the institutions intended to check executive powers. The September 2017 court annulment of the Kenyan elections suggests that the courts were able to perform an important accountability function and safeguard free and fair elections. Yet, the aftermath of the 2017 Kenyan elections culminated in early 2018 with President Uhuru Kenyatta closing down television and radio stations. Civil society actors, policy makers, and scholars warn against the democratic backlash and its negative implications for domestic and international politics. Internationally, the African democratic backlash challenges global actors who have long pressured developing countries to politically liberalize. Yet, following what appears to be a global trend of democratic backsliding, space for international influence and the spread of liberal norms is closing rapidly. Domestically, the observed backlash against democracy may pose further social and political threats with wide-reaching implications for development. This may, in turn, challenge the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Whereas closing space for civil society impacts first and foremost on voice and participation, restrictions on civil society ultimately may curb even the most seemingly apolitical activities such as humanitarian relief. At present, there is limited understanding of possible response mechanisms to the conscious attempts at democratic rollback from political elites. How do activists come together to advocate for particular rights? When are activists more effective in generating mass citizen support for their campaigns? How can researchers, international actors, and domestic civil society organizations work together to disseminate and use knowledge about organizational resilience in these circumstances? These will be pressing questions for scholars and activists going forward.

Article

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Political Decision Making  

Ewa A. Golebiowska

Public opinion on LGBT Americans’ rights has become more supportive of equal treatment over time. The movement toward greater egalitarianism has been particularly pronounced on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and gay adoption. Today, the general public is overwhelmingly supportive of laws to protect gays and lesbians against job discrimination, the right of gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, and legal recognition of same-sex marriages. It is also overwhelmingly supportive of legal protections for gay and lesbian employees, although we do not know whether abstract support for equality in the workplace translates into support for the hiring of gays and lesbians in all occupations. Yet, many questions concerning LGBT Americans’ rights remain controversial. The general public is especially polarized on the questions of whether transgender individuals should be able to use the bathrooms of the gender with which they identify and whether business owners in the wedding services industry can discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds. Systematic research on political attitudes of LGBT individuals using probability samples is practically nonexistent, although there are many studies of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals’ attitudes, identities, and behavior that use convenience samples. The existing studies demonstrate that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals tend to identify as ideologically liberal and favor the Democratic Party in their affinities and votes. LGBT Americans are far more supportive of equality in all issue domains although bisexuals—compared to lesbians and gay men—are more lukewarm in their embrace of equality on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Scholarship on LGBT Americans in public opinion has primarily explored attitudes toward gays and lesbians and has tended to focus on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and adoption. It examines psychological, political, and demographic correlates of public opinion regarding LGBT individuals and explores links between interpersonal contact with LGBT individuals and attitudes toward them. Generally speaking, moral traditionalism, gender role conceptions, and attributions for the existence of homosexuality are especially important psychological predictors of attitudes toward sexual and gender identity minorities. Partisan and ideological identities play an important role too as do cues from ideologically compatible political elites. Of the several demographic attributes that researchers have included in their models, religion-related variables stand out for their predictive prowess. Finally, interpersonal contact with sexual and gender minorities, as well as community exposure to LGBT individuals, is associated with more favorable views toward them. Another yardstick by which commitment to equal treatment for LGBT Americans could be measured is whether and how sexual orientation and gender identity influence political fortunes of candidates for electoral office. Scholarship to date suggests that sexual orientation and gender identity function as important heuristics that influence voters’ thinking about LGBT candidacies. Some scholarship mines survey questions that inquire about respondents’ willingness to support hypothetical LGBT candidates for office. Others use experimental design to isolate the influences of sexual orientation and gender identity on political evaluation. Altogether, these studies demonstrate that LGBT individuals do not face a level playing field when they launch campaigns for office.

Article

Nonbinary Trans Identities  

B. Lee Aultman

Nonbinary trans identities have historically referred to a range of gender non-normative embodiments and self-making practices that stand on the outside of, or sometimes in direct opposition to, the Western binary classifications of sex/gender (i.e., man or woman, male or female). These identities include but are not limited to androgyny, genderqueer, genderfluid, gender nonconforming, and genderf*ck. Increasingly, nonbinary has become its own free-standing identity, without many of the historical connotations that genderqueer, for instance, might invoke. Nonbinary people identify themselves with gender-neutral pronouns or a fluid mixture of gendered pronouns in social practices. Some transition and take on embodiments that have a particular gendered aesthetic. This may or may not include sexual reassignment surgeries and other procedures that are body confirming. In short, nonbinary people have varied and robust social lives. The umbrella category of “trans” helps to situate some of the meaning and history of gender-non-normative identities. On the one hand, it can be a productive political vehicle that mobilizes communities of similarly felt histories toward collective action. On the other hand, it can limit the range of recognized embodiments and practices that have participated in the historically pertinent conventions that trans describes. The history of nonbinary identities is then a complex prospect. Such identities alter the categorical assumptions that underscore transsexual and transgender identities within binary terms. The complex narratives and histories of nonbinary trans identities raise some timely questions about the conventions of sex/gender in contemporary life. What constitutes one’s enduring sense of gender now that the binary itself has come under dispute? Should the gender binary be protected and for whom? In what varied ways do nonbinary identities alter a commonly shared imaginary of the bodily aesthetic? What role does desire play in the ongoing social changes in this long revolution of the body? The politics that emerge from these questions are becoming increasingly pressing as technology can now link otherwise isolated people across global boundaries. And finally, the reception of nonbinary identities offers important spaces of dialogue about the proliferation of identity politics, political movements, and the social divisions of labor these forces demand.

Article

The American South and LGBT Politics  

Jay Barth

The cultural distinctiveness of the South led to a backlash in the region in the years following the rise of a national LGBTQ movement. In the decades that followed, political science research showed that the South remained fundamentally different than elsewhere in the nation in terms of attitudes regarding LGBTQ individuals and policies, both regarding overall views and Southerners’ imperviousness to personal contact with queer individuals in terms of reshaping attitudes. In electoral politics, explicit group-based appeals regarding LGBTQ individuals were often employed. And, policy divergence between the South and non-South was stark. While unambiguous shifts have occurred in the South in a more pro-LGBTQ rights direction, the region remains distinctively conservative when it comes to LGBTQ politics. Particularly striking are Southern attitudes toward transgender individuals and policies. That said, “two Souths” have begun to cement on LGBTQ politics as urbanized and suburbanized areas have diverged. Moreover, within the region’s Republican Party, a factional divide has begun to show itself across the South. The South remains consequential in gauging whether backpedaling on the dramatic progress made on LGBTQ rights is occurring in the United States.

Article

The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage Reforms  

Ivana Isailović

Over the past few years, same-sex marriage reforms have become central to contemporary LGBTQ movements. As a result of their mobilizations, many countries across the world have adopted same-sex marriage reforms. According to scholars, LGBTQ movements were successful in part because they used law and legal discourse, arguing that same-sex marriage flows from states’ legal obligations to protect equality and prohibit discrimination. The turn to law and the law of marriage in the local and transnational contexts may fail, however, to deliver substantive justice for all LGBTQ people. First, same-sex marriage reforms, rather than being just a translation of equality into law, is a product of ideological and legal battles in specific socioeconomic contexts. For instance, in the United States, same-sex marriage, rather than being another form of relationship recognition, became prominent because of the centrality of marriage in the country’s economic, cultural, and legal order. Second, the law of marriage is a system of governance historically shaped by different-sex couples’ needs, with specific one-size-fits-all rules that may not correspond to LGBTQ individuals’ desires, wishes, and lived experiences. Third, as queer theorists have shown, the law of marriage creates an “outside,” a space of exclusion that is inseparable from the legal regime of marriage and the cultural intelligibility of marriage. The emphasis on marriage by LGBTQ movements risks delegitimizing other forms of intimate relationships. The emphasis on marriage may also entrench neoliberalism in contexts in which the marriage, not the state, is seen as a primary safety net. Finally, in the global or transnational setting, claims for same-sex marriage may perhaps unintentionally feed into representations of civilizational conflicts, between those countries that recognize same-sex marriage and those that do not, while also erasing the variety of local practices around sexuality and gender norms.

Article

LGBTQI Rights and Sub-Saharan Africa  

Ryan Thoreson

In recent decades, the efflorescence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) movements has created powerful inroads for sexual rights in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. While conditions for LGBTI people vary considerably between and within countries, activists across the region are reshaping political, legal, and social understandings of gender and sexuality through their advocacy, both by seizing opportunities and navigating periods of backlash and repression. Over the years, activists have established domestic movements and have expanded their reach to articulate demands in regional and international forums. Their work has challenged the universality of models developed in other parts of the globe and has generated new tactics to respond to religious, familial, and state-sponsored prejudice. At the same time, questions of representativeness, accountability, and strategy have been raised by constituencies and longtime activists alike, inviting critical assessments of movement politics in the region.

Article

LGBT Military Service Policies in the United States  

Andrew Goodhart and Jami K. Taylor

For most of its history, the U.S. military has maintained a policy of exclusion toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people serving in uniform. The justifications for these exclusions have included the view that being homosexual or transgender is a psychological disorder, that it undermines military morale and effectiveness, and a fear that LGBT people would be vulnerable to foreign espionage. Explicit policies banning consensual homosexual sex—and excluding from service those who engage in it—date to the period between World Wars I and II, but de facto efforts at exclusion have existed since the early days of the republic. Regulations governing homosexuals in the military came under pressure in the 1970s and 1980s as societal views toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people changed, and those LGB service members discharged under the policy increasingly challenged their treatment in court. (Public pressure to change regulations governing transgender people in the military arose mostly in the 2000s, though litigation efforts date to the 1970s.) In addition to general shifts in public and legal opinion, the debate over LGB people serving in the U.S. military was affected by the experience of foreign militaries that allow LGB people to serve. United States law began to loosen formal restrictions on LBG people serving in uniform with the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in 1994, but it still required LGB people to serve in secret. Changing public perceptions of LGB people and problems implementing the ban galvanized support for eliminating such restrictions. In 2010, President Obama signed legislation repealing DADT and removing all restrictions on LGB people serving in the military. However, transgender people do not enjoy the same rights. The Trump administration has revised Obama-era rules on transgender service members to enable greater exclusion. The issue is being contested in the courts and appears ripe for further political and legal dispute.

Article

Legislative and Judicial Politics of LGBT Rights in the European Union  

Uladzislau Belavusau

Since the 1980s, the law of the European Union (EU) has become a substantial transnational source of political empowerment for LGBT actors in Europe. The Rome Treaty (1957), which established the European Economic Community, contained a gender equality clause. In the 1990s, this provision was used to protect employment rights of intersex individuals via litigation schemes based on EU law. Yet the subsequent attempts to push forward a similar legal protection for gay and lesbian equality at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), based on the EU sex-equality clause, failed. Since then, the position of the LGBT community in EU legislative politics has evolved significantly through two dimensions. First, the Amsterdam Treaty (1997) extended the number of grounds protected against discrimination in EU law, adding sexual orientation, among others, to this palette. The Amsterdam Treaty permitted the EU Council to adopt the Framework Equality Directive 2000/78/EC, an instrument of secondary Union law that has safeguarded minimum standards of protection against homophobia in relation to matters of employment in all member states. This framework EU legislation has been used by LGBT litigants in their fight for equal working opportunities and pension rights at the CJEU. Second, the introduction of EU citizenship by virtue of the Maastricht Treaty (1992) and the respective secondary law (the EU Citizenship Directive 2004/38/EC) have paved the way for status recognition of same-sex spouses in the member states that have not previously recognized same-sex partnership or marriage. The future of LGBT legislative politics and the LGBT community in Europe will largely depend on whether EU law is able to extend protection beyond the current confines of the employment area, broaden its scope to cover social dimensions such as health and education, and fully recognize same-sex marriages and partnerships throughout the EU.

Article

Transgender and Nonbinary Gender Policy in the Public Sector  

Nicole M. Elias

Our understanding and treatment of gender in the United States has evolved significantly over the past four decades. Transgender individuals in the current U.S. context enjoy more rights and protections than they have in the past; yet, room for progress remains. Moving beyond the traditional male–female binary, an unprecedented number of people now identify as transgender and nonbinary. Transgender identities are at the forefront of gender policy, prompting responses from public agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. Because transgender individuals face increased rates of discrimination, violence, and physical and mental health challenges, compared to their cisgender counterparts, new gender policy often affords legal protections as well as identity-affirming practices such as legal name and gender marker changes on government documents. These rights come from legal decisions, legislation, and administrative agency policies. Despite these victories, recent government action targeting the transgender population threatens the progress that has been made. This underscores the importance of comprehensive policies and education about transgender identities to protect the rights of transgender people.

Article

Hate Crime Policy in the United States  

Megan Osterbur

Hate crime policy has developed from the early legislation of the 1968 Civil Rights Act to the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, to be increasingly inclusive in terms of identity and comprehensive in terms of ramifications. Hence a body of scholarship around the trajectory and implications of hate crime laws has developed, as has a robust discourse on the definitions of hate crime itself and theories on who perpetrates bias-motivated violence and why it occurs. Between definitions of hate crime, a tension exists between legal definitions and those of theorists who are attempting incorporate understanding of context into the definition. Similarly, the theories on who perpetrates hate crimes and why they occur exhibit tensions between strain-based theories. While some scholars have deployed Merton’s (1938) strain theory associated with societal anomie, others point to changing norms. As hate crime laws have become more inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, avenues of research into the disparities in experience of bias-motivated crimes between enumerated categories has increased. Persistent in the research on hate crime is the deficiency of data on victimization and ramifications beyond direct victims. While data on the scope of the policies is clear, inconsistencies in data collection around victimization render available resources insufficient. Most recently, research on hate crime policy has intersected with queer theory to question whether hate crime laws are positive for the LGBTQ community or society at large. Organizations such as the Silvia Rivera Law Project, for example, have pushed back on calls for inclusive hate crime laws via challenging the propensity to provide additional resources to the prison-industrial complex. Furthermore, queer scholars of history find a disconnect between the origins of the LGBTI movement in resisting police powers to be antithetical to promoting increased police powers in the form of hate crime legislation.

Article

Violence Against and Policing of LGBTQ Communities: A Historical Perspective  

Courtenay W. Daum

Law enforcement has a lengthy history of policing LGBTQ communities. Throughout the 20th century, police utilized laws prohibiting same-sex sexual conduct to criminalize LGBTQ individuals, and to target public gathering places including gay bars. Sodomy prohibitions were supplemented by mental health diagnoses including assumptions about criminal pathologies among LGBTQ individuals and the government’s fear that LGBTQ individuals’ sexual perversions made them a national security risk to subject LGBTQ communities to extensive policing based on their alleged sexual deviance. The successes of the gay rights movement led the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental health disorder in the 1970s, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that prohibitions on sodomy run afoul of the Constitution ended the de jure criminalization of LGBTQ individuals based on their sexual conduct. Today, policing of LGBTQ communities consists of both overpolicing and underenforcement. Law enforcement regularly profiles some facets of LGBTQ communities in order to selectively enforce general criminal prohibitions on public lewdness, solicitation, loitering, and vagrancy—consistent with the goals of “quality of life” policing—on gay men, transwomen, and LGBTQ youth, respectively. The selective enforcement of these laws often targets LGBTQ people of color and other intersectionally identified LGBTQ individuals in order to criminalize their existence based on ongoing stereotypes about sexual deviancy. In addition, police regularly fail to recognize LGBTQ individuals as victims of crimes, with the exception of particularly heinous hate crimes, and do not adequately attend to their needs and/or subject them to secondary victimization. As such, the relationship between many LGBTQ communities and law enforcement continues to be characterized by antagonisms and mistrust.

Article

HIV/AIDS Politics and Policy in U.S. States and Localities  

Patricia Siplon

From the earliest days of its recognition in the United States, the condition that came to be known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has been associated with the gay community. In fact, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first made written notice of the syndrome in 1981, the acronym GRID (gay-related immune disease) was commonly, although not officially, used to describe it. In the five years that followed, the causal agent, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), was discovered, specific demographic groups were identified as at heightened risk of infection, and transmission routes—including sexual activity, intravenous drug use, and transfusion of blood and blood products—were determined. Identification of HIV with the gay community as a major risk group had important ramifications for prevention and treatment policy, as the community mobilized a rights-based approach that advocated harm reduction over abstinence and access and affordability of treatment over the interests of the private market. These concepts carried into later debates as the world recognized the global severity of HIV and grappled for the first time ever with a goal of universal treatment access in the world’s poorest countries where the pandemic is most severe. Identification of HIV with values, conceptual structures, leadership, and mobilization drawn from the gay community also had ramifications on the social and political contexts of AIDS treatment and prevention globally, as governments and cultures that had ignored or demonized their gay populations have increased their interactions with them as “risk groups” and as political actors. Despite the remarkable inroads made into accessibility of treatment, the world remains without a vaccine, a cure, or the political will to fully implement universal treatment access, which means that eradication of the global pandemic remains elusive.

Article

The Evolution of Transgender Policies in the United States  

Emilia Lombardi

In the United States, increasing numbers of transgender people are coming forward and working to change legislation to better protect their lives and identities. These changes have come over a long period of time with the work of transgender people and allies. Societal acceptance and support for transgender people has evolved, first in the provision of medical resources allowing for physical changes, and later in legislation supporting and protecting people’s ability to publicly and legally express their gender. However, these changes have not been always been to benefit transgender people as others sought to control and limit people’s ability to express nonnormative genders. Policy changes occur in reaction to transgender people, but at the same time, transgender people have been working to allow themselves the freedom to express their genders freely. Major changes first began when scientists and medical professionals became interested in medical technologies such as hormones and its affects on people’s bodies. It was these discoveries that also interested people who felt dysphoric about their gender expression and saw these procedures as being able to reduce their pain and improve their lives. The movement to utilize surgical techniques soon followed. As more people sought these services, medical professionals developed guidelines to identify those who would benefit from the procedures and how to utilize these technologies safely to help people transition from one gender to another. As more people were able to transition, policies arose to prevent or limit people’s ability to express their identity, but transgender people and allies also organized to counter this movement and propose policies that are more supportive and protective for them.

Article

Sex Reclassification for Trans and Gender-Nonconforming People: From the Medicalized Body to the Privatized Self  

Ido Katri

Sex reclassification is a core issue of gender nonconforming legal engagements. Access to proper identification documents for trans and nonbinary people relates to lower levels of exposure to anti-trans violence, discrimination, and suicidality. In the first decades of the 21st century, the majority of global jurisdictions have seen some kind of reform with respect to sex reclassification. Nonbinary classifications, such as the X marker, are also becoming available for those who wish not to be classified as either M or F. Across the globe, five major policy streams can be found: total ban on reclassification, that is, having no law or policy in place that allows for reclassification; reproduction-related prerequisite, that is, requiring applicants to undergo sterilization or genital-related surgery; other medical intervention-based schemes, that is, requiring applicants to provide proof that they have modified their body using some kind of gender-related medical technology; corroboration requirements, that is, requiring that a third party, usually a medical professional, corroborates the identity of the applicant; and the emerging “gold standard,” gender self-determination, that is, laws and policies requiring only an expression of a desire or need to be reclassified. These streams of policy provide varying levels of access to proper identification documents and place different burdens on applicants, some requiring bodily modifications while others rely on autonomous will. Yet all these policies still demand an alignment between the internal truth of the body and external facts, resonating with the logic of birth assignment of sex itself—that is, the idea that the allocation of differentiated legal status of M or F reflects an immutable truth about legal subjects. Current laws and policies fail to address harms caused to gender nonconforming people by state mechanisms themselves. They only provide remedies ex post facto. In the early 21st century, all countries assign a differentiated legal status of either M or F at birth based solely, in almost all cases, on external genitals of newborns. This differentiated legal status is recorded on the birth certificate and becomes a part of one’s legal identity for life. This allocation of status reflects the idea that external genitals of newborns are proof of their owners’ future roles as men or women, that is, an idea that there is a pre-legal alignment between certain bodily configurations, social role, and gender performance. This mundane administrative mechanism not only justifies different treatment for men and women but also marks trans and nonbinary people as others. In order to better address the harm caused by systems of gendered distribution of resources and opportunities, there is a need to go beyond sex reclassification to question birth assignment itself.

Article

LGBTQ Politics in Media and Culture  

Thomas J. Billard and Larry Gross

As the primary vector by which society tells itself about itself, popular media transmit ideas of what behavior is acceptable and whose identities are legitimate, thereby perpetuating and, at times, transforming the social order. Thus, media have been key targets of LGBT advocacy and activism and important contributors to the political standing of LGBT people. Of course, media are not a monolith, and different types of media inform different parts of society. Community media have been an important infrastructure through which gays and lesbians and, separately, transgender people formed shared identities and developed collective political consciousness. Political media, such as newspapers, news websites, and network and cable television news broadcasts, inform elites and the mass public alike, making them an important influence on public opinion and political behavior. Entertainment media, such as television and film, cultivate our culture’s shared values and ideas, which infuse into the public’s political beliefs and attitudes. Generally speaking, the literature on LGBTQ politics and the media is biased toward news and public affairs media over fictional and entertainment media, though both are important influences on LGBTQ citizens’ political engagement, as well as on citizens’ public opinion toward LGBTQ rights and their subsequent political behaviors. In the case of the former, media—particularly LG(BT) community media—have played an important role in facilitating the formation of a shared social and then political identity, as well as fueling the formation of, first, separate gay and lesbian and transgender movements and then a unified LGBTQ movement. Moreover, digital media have enabled new modes of political organizing and exercising sociopolitical influence, making LGBTQ activism more diverse, more intersectional, more pluralistic, and more participatory. In the case of the latter, (news) media representations of LGBTQ individuals initially portrayed them in disparaging and disrespectful ways. Over time, representations in both news and entertainment media have come to portray them in ways that legitimate their identities and their political claims. These representations, in turn, have had profound impacts on public opinion toward LGBTQ rights and citizens’ LGBTQ-relevant voting behavior. Yet, the literature on these representations and their effects overwhelmingly focuses on gays and lesbians at the expense of bisexual and transgender people, and this work is done primarily in U.S. and Anglophone contexts, limiting our understanding of the relationships between LGBTQ politics and the media globally.

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The Politics of LGBQTI Human Rights in the United Nations System  

Dominic McGoldrick

The United Nations system has been a major global site of political and legal contestation for LGBTQI human rights. However, the lack of consensus has led to major divisions within the UN’s political institutions. The independent human rights institutions that do exist within the UN system have been more progressive in advancing LGBTQI issues.

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Legal and Policy Battles Over Same-Sex Relationships  

Erez Aloni

Since the 1980s, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) social movements worldwide have put significant energy into securing relationship rights. In the 1970s, however, the general sentiment in such movements in the Occident had been anti-marriage and anti-nuclear family. This changed in the 1980s due to three factors: the impact of HIV/AIDS, which emphasized how vulnerable same-sex families are; the rise of families headed by same-sex parents who did not have the same protections as their different-sex counterparts; and globalization, which transferred the ideas about same-sex relationships among movements and created energy and useful policy connections. During the 1990s, a wave of marriage alternatives spread around the world, sometimes extended by legislatures and other times by courts. The rise of alternatives has raised these questions: are they a temporary compromise on the path to marriage equality; are they a replacement for marriage that is free of its historical discriminatory heritage; or are they proposing an additional legal institution alongside marriage? In the 2000s and since, marriage equality became realistic and more common as two dozen countries gradually extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, initially in Europe and North America, but later also in Australasia, in the entire Americas, and even—in fewer countries—in Asia and Africa. Incrementalism is the generally accepted theory for why progress occurs in some countries and delays in others. However, scholars have criticized the theory as descriptively inaccurate and, normatively, as portraying marriage as the final frontier for LGBTQ equality—thus contributing to that community’s emphasis on marriage equality to the neglect of other possible advocacy avenues. Further, the incrementalistic account should take into consideration that the path toward recognition is not linear and is international as well as national. Supranational courts have played an important role in the progress toward recognizing same-sex relationships; at the same time, the globalization of LGBTQ relationship rights has also resulted in a strong backlash and in regression in some countries.

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Attitudes Toward LGB Families: International Policies and LGB Family Planning  

Pedro Alexandre Costa

According to recent U.S. census data, there are over 700,000 same-gender couples, of which 114,00 have children. U.K. census data further revealed over 200,000 same-gender parented families, and there is evidence that these numbers have been increasing in the last few decades. Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, research on the psychosocial well-being of LGB families was established with a focus on the potential impact of parents’ sexual orientation on the psychological adjustment of their children. Interest in LGB families was evidenced by the growing political and public attention, and became a central issue within the LGBT+ movement across the Western world, especially in Europe and the United States. However, attitudes toward LGB family policies have not evolved in a linear fashion insofar as they have accompanied the constant back and forth in LGB family policies and legislation. Negative attitudes toward LGB family policies are rooted in the negative evaluations of LGB individuals based on beliefs that LGB people are less fit as parents or unable to form and sustain healthy relationships because of their sexual or gender identity. However, these negative beliefs differ according to heterosexual individuals’ characteristics. Research has shown that men, older, less educated, non-White, politically conservative, highly religious, and authoritarian, as well as those who believe that homosexuality is controllable, strictly adhere to traditional gender roles and authorities, and do not have frequent or close contact with LGB individuals, hold higher levels of sexual prejudice toward LGB individuals and LGB family policies. As of January 2020, same-gender marriage and parenthood are recognized in around 30 countries worldwide, although some countries recognize some forms of same-gender unions, but not marriage, whereas others recognize the right of LGB individuals to have children but not to marry. LGB family policies have progressed mostly through two different pathways: (a) the judicial pathway, which has involved litigation and court rulings on specific matters related to same-gender relationships and parenthood and which was undertaken in the United States, and (b) the legislative pathway, which has relied on political discussion and policy initiatives and was undertaken in the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain). The different pathways to equality in LGB family policies have different impacts for LGB individuals. In particular, the constant negative messages regarding same-gender couples as being unable to have healthy relationships have been shown to contribute to chronic minority stress and psychological distress among LGB individuals. By contrast, the legalization of same-gender marriage and parenthood provide important benefits and protections for LGB families in addition to promoting their well-being. Examining the evolution of attitudes and legislation regarding LGB family policies is important to inform further initiatives aimed at correcting inequalities for LGB families.

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Marriage Equality, Public Accommodations Laws, and Religious Exercise  

Susan Gluck Mezey

Opposition to same-sex marriage in the United States is frequently based on the religious belief that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. With most of the attention focused on wedding vendors, the clash between religious liberty and marriage equality has largely manifested itself in efforts by business owners, such as photographers, florists, caterers, and bakers, to deny their services to same-sex couples celebrating their marriages. Citing state antidiscrimination laws, the couples demand the owners treat them as they do their other customers. Owners of public accommodations (privately owned business open to the public) who object to facilitating the weddings of same-sex couples do so typically by asserting their personal religious beliefs as defenses when charged with violating such laws; they argue that they would view their participation (albeit indirect) in wedding ceremonies as endorsing same-sex marriage. As the lawsuits against them began to proliferate, the business owners asked the courts to shield them from liability for violating the laws prohibiting discrimination because of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation. They cited their First Amendment right to the free exercise of their religion and their right not to be compelled to speak, that is, to express a positive message about same-sex marriage. With conflicts between same-sex couples and owners of business establishments arising in a number of states, the focus of the nation’s attention was on a New Mexico photographer, a Washington State florist, and a Colorado baker, each of whom sought an exemption from their state’s antidiscrimination law to enable them to exercise their religious tenets against marriage equality. In these cases, the state human rights commissions and the state appellate courts ruled that the antidiscrimination laws outweighed the rights of the business owners to exercise their religious beliefs against marriage equality by refusing to play a role, no matter how limited, in a same-sex marriage ceremony. In June 2018, in Masterpiece Cakeshop, LTD. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the state’s antidiscrimination law that guaranteed equal treatment for same-sex couples in places of public accommodations but reversed the Commission’s ruling against the Colorado baker. In a narrow decision, the Court held that the Commission infringed on the baker’s First Amendment right to free exercise by uttering comments that, in the Court’s view, demonstrated hostility to his sincerely held religious beliefs. The ruling affirmed that society has a strong interest in protecting gay men and lesbians from harm as they engage in the marketplace as well as in respecting sincerely held religious beliefs.