Panel Paper: Diffusion of Antidiscrimination Policies for Sexual Orientation

Thursday, November 8, 2012 : 10:35 AM
Adams (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Marieka Klawitter, University of Washington and Danielle Fumia, University of Washington-Seattle

Starting in 1972, cities, counties, and states began adopting laws that prohibited private and government employers from discriminating against gays and lesbians in employment.  Since then, almost half the states and hundreds of local governments have passed these laws resulting in about 45 percent of the U.S. population covered by state private employment laws and 25 percent covered by local laws (with about 15 percentage point overlap).  Several studies suggest that state, but not local laws, affect earnings for gays and lesbians.  We examine when and why governments have adopted these antidiscrimination policies with a particular focus on the “snowball” effects of adoptions by other governments.  This discussion may shed light on the possible influences and potential timing of adoption of federal protections. 

Using primary data on the adoption of state, county, and local policies from 1972 to 2009, we build on the political science literatures on policy diffusion and the political influences on “morality” issues by examining the effects of nearby adoptions over time on state and local policy adoptions of these laws.  We expand on policy diffusion literature by exploring the impact of local adoptions on state adoptions and vice versa. Additional controls include local and state characteristics including population demographics, local and state government structure, political ideology, and public opinion. Using discrete event history models that incorporate time varying influences for each city, county and state, we assess these key questions:


  • Do adoptions by nested cities and counties increase the likelihood of a state adopting and does a state adoption decrease the likelihood of cities and counties adopting?
  • How do adoptions by nearby peer governments affect adoptions? 
  • How do adoptions of government employment protections affect the later adoption of private sector protections?
  • How do demographic characteristics, political institutions, and public opinion affect adoptions at each level of government?

Our work illuminates the specifics of how antidiscrimination policies for sexual orientation are adopted and addresses the larger questions of institutional and intergovernmental influence in policy diffusion, especially in the case of minority rights.