This dissertation examines how and why worldwide attitudes toward homosexuality and national policies that affect the lives of gay men and women have changed over time. I use three main theories to frame my analysis of attitudes and laws. The first – world society theory – describes the globalizing influence of an elite “global culture.” Support for gay rights has, in recent years, become institutionalized within this global culture. Second, multiple modernities theory points to the effect of region-specific cultural programs. Third, the postmaterialist thesis casts the experience of existential security or insecurity as a main influence on societal norms.
Results indicate that both global and region-specific cultures have driven change over time in worldwide attitudes toward homosexuality. I use data from the integrated World Values Survey/European Values Survey (1981-2012) and a longitudinal multilevel design to investigate how societal attitudes toward homosexuality have changed over time – and to test the relative power of world society theory, multiple modernities theory, and the postmaterialist thesis to explain worldwide attitudinal change. In line with world society theory, the results show that there has been a broad global upswing in the acceptance of homosexuality, driven in large part by the diffusion of favorable global cultural messages. The results provide perhaps the strongest evidence yet that global culture has shaped collective attitudes globally. High levels of religiosity may, however, act to moderate the positive influence of exposure to global culture. And, even as attitudes toward homosexuality in most societies have become more accepting, the pace of change has been uneven. My analysis finds a widening attitudinal gap between countries, and, consistent with multiple modernities theory, suggests this is due in part to the role of anti-gay region-specific cultural programs in the Muslim World, sub-Saharan Africa, and the former Soviet and Eastern Bloc. Contrary to the postmaterialist thesis, existential security is not found to have influenced attitudes.
Next, I examine the global spread of national policies for: (1) the prohibition of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, (2) the legalization of same-sex unions, and (3) the decriminalization of same-sex sexual relations. The world society literature has found that exposure to global culture, via national ties to international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), promotes the global diffusion of national policies. But here I investigate whether the domestic societal “uptake” of global culture can also promote global policy diffusion from the “bottom up.” If, moreover, national policy adoption is shaped by prevailing norms and notions of legitimacy, as world society theory would indicate, then whose notions of legitimacy are more influential: those of an international cultural elite or those of the domestic society? Results from event history models indicate that national ties to INGOs strongly promote the adoption of both anti-discrimination and same-sex union policies while accepting domestic attitudes toward homosexuality promote the adoption of same-sex unions but not anti-discrimination polices. I argue that this difference in the effect of attitudes can be explained by the greater salience of same-sex union policies with national publics, which would lead us to expect that public opinion would be more influential in this case. The strength of domestic lesbian and gay civil societies, meanwhile, had no effect. And results for the decriminalization of homosexuality present something of an anomaly: INGO ties had little or no effect on the likelihood of decriminalization even while domestic factors and region effects were more consequential. I suggest that, since the decriminalization of homosexuality has been by far the most widely adopted of the three gay-rights policies, many of those countries that had still not decriminalized by the 1991-2014 period were highly resistant to the global gay rights norm, and thus not receptive to pro-gay cultural messages conveyed through INGO ties. The results indicate that favorable domestic public opinion can help drive global policy diffusion from the bottom up – and that global norms can become inconsequential in the face of strong domestic resistance.
This dissertation extends our understanding of global culture’s impact at the level of the domestic society. This study also shows how sub-global resistance to global culture can be highly impactful, even to the point of blunting the effect of exposure to global culture.