Graduation Year

Spring 2014

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis


Politics and International Relations

Reader 1

Mark Golub

Reader 2

Steven Samford

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Rights Information

© 2014 Emma Brillhart


This thesis looks at the state of marriage equality activism in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2013 decisions in United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry. Some scholars, such as Gerald Rosenberg, argue that Supreme Court decisions can never affect “significant social change,” either directly or indirectly, while others argue that such decisions can be hugely important in directly affecting policy. My focus is on how activist organizations, which have a substantial track record of directly affecting policy, are influenced by changes to the political environment stemming from major Court decisions regarding social issues. After examining how past litigative efforts such as Baehr v. Lewin and Goodridge v. Department of Public Health have affected the LGBT rights movement, and marriage equality activism specifically, I discuss how organizational strategies have changed minimally, but the political environment in which marriage equality activism is operating has shifted quite a bit, especially in terms of framing and legal precedent. I conclude that Court decisions can indeed have a significant impact on social change by affecting the way in which it is possible for activists on both sides of the issue to shape and deliver their message to the general public, legislators, and courts in future litigative efforts.