"We Are All More Free": How Ideas and Arguments Shape the Lgbt Movement

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Keck, Thomas M.

Subject Categories

Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation explores the roles of ideas and arguments in shaping the LGBT movement's history, including its successes and failures in achieving its self-identified goals. The three papers in this text explore different pieces of that question within the LGBT movement. Each paper takes on a different aspect of this question, but focuses on the intersection of ideas, the arguments that derive from them, and how those ideas and arguments inform how the LGBT movement interacted with institutions. Chapter 1, From Deviance to Defiance, draws on the multiple traditions framework to examine the ideological foundations of the American state's treatment of sexual minorities over time and how those foundations have changed over time, with a focus on the push-and-pull between traditionalist and egalitarian political traditions. Chapter 2, Bonds of Love, Bonds of Law, focuses on the fight for parenting equality for lesbian and gay parents, with an eye toward how advocacy for parenting equality, while limited in its success, contributed to the later success of marriage equality litigation. Chapter 3, For the Good of the Service, studies how the LGBT movement pursued open military service by pivoting between political and legal advocacy that allowed it to exploit a doctrinal quirk of the judiciary to pressure the political branches to act. Taken together, these three papers are directly in conversation with scholarship on the role of ideas in shaping social movements. President Obama linked the equality of LGBT Americans with the equality of all Americans. Rather than seeing civil rights and equality as a finite resource, this position drew on the fundamental American idea that all people are created equal. Each of the major rights-expanding social movements that have unfolded in American history – and many struggles besides – have taken this idea as one of their foundational principles. How each movement came to understand that idea alone and in company with other ideas, how they came to translate that idea into specific demands, how these ideas informed their approach to institutions, and how institutions eventually came to recognize and incorporate those ideas is a critical part of the story of social movements in the United States. In the following chapters, I hope to shed just a little more light on how the LGBT movement helped us all to become freer.


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