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Rights, Regimes, and Reinvention: The Role of the Welfare State in Same-Sex Relationship Recognition Policy


Research examining countries’ policy responses to minority rights contestations typically focuses on the role of social movements and political institutions in delivering beneficial policy outcomes. Studies of same-sex relationship recognition (SSRR) policy adoption are no different. This dissertation diverges from previous narratives to present a theory of rights recognition grounded in comparative political economy and public policy. Specifically, I argue comprehensive welfare states that reduce economic inequalities, better address social inequalities, and are thus more likely to adopt SSRR policies sooner than their less comprehensive counterparts. A potential implication of my theory—that comprehensive welfare states adopt more expansive SSRR policies—comes into conflict with existing research on policy reinvention suggesting early adopting states adopt sub-optimal policies and then update them to keep pace with later adopters.

I test my theory and the competing hypotheses about the welfare state’s effects on policy expansiveness using a mixed-methods research design and a database of SSRR policy adoptions in 20 countries between 1978 to 2015. Cox proportional-hazards models allow me to examine the effects of the welfare state on the timing of policy adoption, and a case study of the United States and the Netherlands illuminates key theoretical mechanisms. I disentangle the competing hypotheses about policy expansiveness in several ways. First, a seemingly unrelated estimation procedure involving multiple component event history analyses and robust/sandwich standard errors allow me to evaluate the differing effects of covariates on each type of policy adoption. I then use logistic regression to discern whether comprehensive welfare states adopt more expansive SSRR policies. Lastly, I examine the relationship between welfare state comprehensiveness and the number of policies states adopt over time.

I find welfare state comprehensiveness predicts the adoption of an SSRR policy, but that comprehensive welfare states do not necessarily adopt the most expansive policies—at least initially. Instead, comprehensive welfare states adopt less expansive policies and update them to keep pace with their late adopting peers. These findings improve our understanding of identity politics and comparative welfare states, offering a cautious commentary on the potential pitfalls of retreating on social rights. They also bolster previous findings about the implications of policy reinvention. Finally, my approach to studying SSRR policy adoption offers some synthesis for the eclectic strand of research attempting to explain SSRR policy adoption.

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