The same-sex unions revolution in western democracies

International norms and domestic policy change

Author: Kelly Kollman

On 1 October 1989, eleven gay male couples gathered in the registry office of Copenhagen's city chambers to take part in a civil ceremony, entering into a newly established entity called a registered partnership (RP). This book examines same-sex unions (SSU) policy developments western democracies and explains why the overwhelming majority of these countries has implemented a national law to recognise gay and lesbian couples. It presents an overview of recent developments in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) politics as well as the academic literatures that seek to interpret and analyse these developments. The study discussed adds to constructivist work on the international human rights regime, which has been a prominent focus of the literature. The book also examines the processes of international policy diffusion. It traces the development of a soft-law norm for relationship recognition within the broader European polity and illustrates how dissemination of this norm taken by transnational LGBT rights activists and supportive policy elites. The book presents in-depth case studies of Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and the US to tease out the extent and causal mechanisms by which the SSU norm has influenced policy debates. It looks at the ways in which the SSU norm has shaped policy discourse about relationship recognition. The book examines why countries with broadly similar parliamentary structures, party systems, levels of religiosity and confessional heritages have adopted different models of SSU policies. Finally, it inspects how much the European SSU norm has affected policy debates in Canada and the US.

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‘Before 1989, there had been little discussion of the state recognition of same-sex unions. After 1989, what began as an apparent ripple when Denmark pioneered the way, soon became a wave and then a tsunami as the idea of same-sex unions, and then equal marriage, became a central focus of LGBT politics across the globe. In meticulous detail, Kelly Kollman traces the internationalisation of the idea, carried by political entrepreneurs, emerging social norms, newly defined human rights, and national and international campaigning. A totally unexpected international headwind has propelled the new values, aspirations and policies, though national culture has worked through the necessary legal and cultural changes – or resistances to change – in its own way. But the result has been a remarkable transformation in the formal recognition of LGBT relationships. This book provides a powerful and thought-provoking anatomy of this major shift, and a testimony to the remarkable achievements of the LGBT movement, perhaps the most successful of the social movements that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s.'
Jeffrey Weeks

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