Goodbye, Marriage Bans. Hello, Duggars.

Two men in handshake during San Francisco Marriage March with banner,
 “We all deserve the freedom to marry.” 

Photo from Creative Commons.

Assistant professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio

For about six months I’ve considered writing an update to Gay Rights at the Ballot Box, my book on the history of anti-gay ballot measures from 1974 to 2009. However, I’ve been in the fortunate position of being stymied by the flurry of court cases legalizing same-sex marriage. According to Freedom to Marry, since June 2013, there have been 36 pro-marriage rulings in federal court, 15 issues in state court, and five by federal appellate court.

These rulings frequently have overturned the marriage bans written into state constitutions by anti-gay initiatives that have spread across the country since the late 1990s. The most infamous of these initiatives was the California Proposition 8 in 2008. When I published my book in 2012, these marriage bans were the main form of ballot measure used by the Religious Right to restrict LGBT rights. I had a suspicion that the marriage bans would be overturned by court rulings, although there was the possibility that LGBT campaigns would have to repeal these marriage bans with additional initiatives (and organizers in states like Florida and Oregon were preparing to do so).

Now I can declare that it’s official. The marriage ban ballot measure is dead. I think that these ballot measures, which have happened in over thirty states and have consumed millions of dollars and innumerable other resources from the LGBT community, are never going to be effective again.

However, anti-gay ballot measures are not over. The Religious Right has continued in its longstanding use of referendums on municipal non-discrimination laws that include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Similar to votes this year in Pocatello, Idaho, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, this month voters in Fayetteville, Arkansas, considered whether to repeal the city’s non-discrimination laws. The voters elected to repeal the law by a narrow margin.

When Fayetteville voters considered whether to repeal the law, they were persuaded by the support of nearby conservative reality television stars Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar. Michelle Duggar participated in a robocall that reminded me of the first major anti-gay referendum, the Dade County referendum of 1977, which was supported by conservative star Anita Bryant. In her robocall Duggar proclaimed that the law allows “males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls.”

In my book, I document the beginning of this claim that transgender-inclusive laws would allow men to come into women’s bathrooms, and the way Religious Right campaigns use it to create hysteria around LGBT rights. This message about the dangers of transgender-inclusive laws is frighteningly similar to Anita Bryant’s claim from the late 1970s that gay men were trying to recruit and molest children. I’ve been tracking these messages created by the Religious Right during anti-gay campaigns, and increasingly the Right is using fear tactics around transgender women (who they almost always describe as “men” or “men in dresses”) using the bathroom. These messages have been deployed all over the United States during these municipal battles about LGBT rights, including in Miami Dade and my own city of San Antonio. Although marriage bans are dead and gone, anti-gay ballot measures still persist.

As much as some things change, others seem to stay the same.


Amy L. Stone is assistant professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio and the author of Gay Rights at the Ballot Box.

“Amy L. Stone crafts a compelling, deeply textured portrayal of the more than 200 anti-gay ballot campaigns in the U.S. since 1974. Through interviews with movement leaders and other sources, Stone deftly analyzes the tension between winning campaigns and building a sustainable movement, between national, urban activists and local, rural communities, as well as debates over tactics and messaging. Gay Rights at the Ballot Box is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the central, disturbing role anti-gay politics has played in contemporary U.S. politics.”—Sean Cahill, Ph.D., Fenway Institute and New York University 

“The chapters on the history of right-wing attacks, the extended Michigan cases, and conservatives’ racist and transphobic smear tactics are especially enlightening, but throughout, Stone writes accessibly about big ideas and everyday actions increasingly central to US politics.” —Choice 

Leave a Reply