Historical Institutionalism and Same-Sex Marriage: A Comparative Analysis of the USA and Canada

  • Miriam Smith
Part of the Global Queer Politics book series (GQP)


This chapter compares the evolution of same-sex marriage in the USA and Canada, grounded in a historical institutionalist approach to understanding policy change (Pierson and Skocpol, Historical Institutionalism in Contemporary Political Science. In Political Science: The State of the Discipline, ed. Ira Katznelson and Helen Milner, 693–721. Norton, 2002). The chapter emphasizes the importance of federalism, the separation of powers versus a parliamentary system, and the role of courts in shaping the institutional structure of political opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) marriage movements in the two North American neighbors. The relative concentration of power in Canada and the nationalization of rights protections through judicial empowerment form a stark contrast to the state-by-state struggle for same-sex marriage that occurs in the USA. At the same time, recent court rulings in the USA demonstrate the impact of national-level judicial decision-making. Comparing two countries with strong courts highlights the factors that condition judicial impact in this policy area.


Same-sex marriage USA Canada Historical institutionalism LGBTQ movements LGBT policies 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Miriam Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.York UniversityTorontoCanada

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