Marriage equality and tolerance towards lgbt

OK to be gay: Marriage equality and tolerance towards LGBT

Can the introduction of new legislation influence how citizens consider key social issues? This column uses the gradual rollout of same-sex relationship recognition policies throughout Europe to show how laws can shape attitudes towards sexual minorities. As marriage equality and other policies expand across the world we can be prepared to see continued improvements in attitudes towards sexual minorities in the countries involved but, conversely, anti-LGBT legislation could erode such acceptance.

Scholars have long recognised the need for understanding whether laws shape or just reflect societal attitudes (Downs 1957, Besley and Case 2003), but providing credible empirical evidence upon this question has proven difficult. The rollout of same-sex relationship recognition policies throughout Europe offers a unique possibility to shed new light upon this issue. Advancements in civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in Europe (along with the Americas and Australia) have already been being among the most striking social changes in recent decades. As recently as 2000, same-sex marriage was illegal throughout Europe. At the moment, same-sex couples can legally marry in 17 Europe while same-sex registered domestic partnerships or civil unions are allowed in 11 others. Social acceptance of LGBT individuals has increased considerably in these countries over the same period. Figure 1 demonstrates the share of citizens who buy into the statement that “Gay men and lesbians ought to be absolve to live their own life because they wish” increased considerably – by about ten percentage points.

Figure 1 Trends in attitudes towards sexual minorities

Notes: This figure includes all countries which were observed during at least a decade of the ESS. We further restrict the sample to observations found in the full-sample estimation.
Source: Aksoy et al. (2018), predicated on 2002-2016 European Social Survey Data.

Legal change and societal attitudes: Cause and effect

These recent developments improve the question whether legal changes merely passively reflect changes in society’s attitudes or, on the other hand, whether laws have an unbiased influence on people’s views of LGBT individuals. Flores and Barclay (2016) discuss four possibilities in this regard: backlash, legitimacy, polarisation, and consensus. A backlash model predicts that attitudes toward LGBT people might become substantially more negative following legal recognition of same-sex relationships, especially regarding judicial rulings. A legitimacy model predicts that legal rulings may increase acceptance and approval of LGBT populations as people infer the laws as increasing social legitimacy. A polarisation model predicts that concentrating on events such as for example major same-sex relationship policies may reduce ambivalence toward LGBT people and increase both social approval and disapproval of sexual minorities. Finally, a consensus model predicts that attitudes shape policy but that policy does not have any effects on attitudes.

What do the info say?

In a recently available paper (Aksoy et al. 2018) we offer new evidence by studying the partnership between legal same-sex relationship recognition policies and attitudes toward sexual minorities in Europe. We analyse data from the 2002-2016 European Social Surveys which asked over 325,000 individuals across Europe identically worded questions in regards to a selection of social and economic issues. Of particular interest is a particular question on if the respondent agrees that “Gay men and lesbians ought to be absolve to live their own life because they wish”. We use cross-country variation in the timing of same-sex relationship recognition policy adoption to estimate difference-in-differences models while controlling for individual demographic characteristics, country characteristics, other LGBT policies (such as for example non-discrimination laws, adoption policies, and hate crimes legislation), country, year, and month fixed effects, and linear country- specific time trends.

We find that – in keeping with a legitimacy model – laws docause changes in people’s attitudes. The introduction of a relationship recognition law for same-sex couples is connected with a statistically significant 3.6 percentage point upsurge in the likelihood a respondent agreed that gay men and lesbians ought to be absolve to live their own life because they wish. This effect is approximately five percent of the baseline average. These results imply that the adoption of expanded relationship recognition policies for same-sex couples can explain 36% of the ten-percentage point increase over our sample period in the share of adults agreeing that gay people ought to be absolve to live their own life because they wish (Figure 1).

Event study models (Figure 2) concur that the consequences we identify emerge only after policy adoption, suggesting that the policies cause changes in attitudes (rather than vice versa). We also show that the consequences of same-sex relationship policies are unique to LGBT attitudes – there is absolutely no systematic relation between these policies and people’s views on other social and economic issues (including attitudes toward other minority groups such as for example immigrants). Moreover, we document that the consequences we identify are widespread across many demographic groups.

Figure 2 Event study for same-sex relationship recognition

Note: This figure is founded on the specification in column 3 of Table 2, which contains linear country-specific time trends. The sample includes countries that ever adopted legal same-sex marriage between 2001 and 2016.
Source: Aksoy et al. (2018), predicated on 2002-2016 European Social Survey Data.


Our results claim that as marriage equality and other relationship recognition policies continue steadily to expand across the world, we might be prepared to observe continued improvements in attitudes towards sexual minorities in the countries involved. This may result in less discrimination (or even more inclusion) in labour and housing markets, improved mental health for sexual minorities, and a variety of other potential benefits connected with less anti-LGBT sentiment.

Our findings also include a stark warning. If pro-LGBT laws increase societal acceptance of sexual minorities then, conversely, anti-LGBT legislation can erode such acceptance. Various countries have recently proposed or introduced legislation to explicitly outlaw same-sex sex (Chad), to introduce a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage (Armenia, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Hungary, the Slovak Republic, and Kyrgyzstan) or even to even ban the “propaganda of non-traditional relationships” (Kyrgyzstan and Russia). Consistent with our results, social acceptance of LGBT individuals has remained low or declined further in lots of of the countries. Amnesty International has reported that a lot more than hundred gay men were abducted, tortured and perhaps killed in Russia’s Chechnya republic in 2017. Our findings claim that legislators may take area of the blame for the erosion of tolerance towards sexual minorities that may bring about excesses like these.


Downs, A (1957), “An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy”, Journal of Political Economy 65(2): 135-150.

Besley, T and A Case (2003). “Political Institutions and Policy Choices: Evidence from america,” Journal of Economic Literature 41: 7-73.

Flores, A R and S Barclay (2016). “Backlash, Consensus, Legitimacy, or Polarization: THE RESULT of Same-Sex Marriage Policy on Mass Attitudes,” Political Research Quarterly 69(1): 43-56.

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