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Abstract

Much debate in Political Science has focused on the role of court decisions as catalysts of social reform. Scholar Gerald Rosenberg has argued litigation often only creates short-term effects, as courts are constrained in creating concrete public policy. Scholar Michael McCann, instead, has suggested legal strategies have lasting effects even when decisions go against activists' claims. In his view, they are capable of increasing social mobilization and awareness of rights, and helping activists develop alternative strategies. This thesis tests those diverging theories by analyzing the effects of the landmark 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision on same-sex marriage (Goodridge, et al. v. Department of Public Health, et al.). This requires empirical research on select political, judicial and social events throughout the country, evaluation of public opinion towards the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, analysis of surveys of gays and lesbians' response to the same-sex marriage debate, and personal interviews with select Massachusetts figures involved in the same-sex marriage movement. The findings suggest that the Goodridge suit was an effective strategy used by activists in the creation of concrete policy regarding same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth. Despite the backlash it created, the decision has spurred further same-sex marriage litigation across the country, influenced nonlegal actors to support and often promote same-sex marriage, increased "rights consciousness" in the gay and lesbian community, and strengthened the work among national and state gayrights groups. This thesis argues that effective social reform can be achieved through the use of litigation, legal strategies have lasting extra-judicial effects, and that state supreme court decisions have become crucial in changing the status quo.

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