Harvey Milk and the Gay Rights Movement in America
Harvey Milk, the first gay elected official of San Francisco, had said that rights cannot be won when they are on paper. But only those who know how to achieve their rights and “make their voices heard” can win the rights. In the paper “Historical Institutionalism and Comparative Federalism: Lesbian and Gay Rights Policies in Canada and the U.S.”, the author Miriam Smith aims at exploring the various nukes and corners of Canadian and the US federalism to assess their approach towards the issue of lesbian and gay rights in the backdrop of historical institutionalism. In the course of this the author has mentioned the level of centralization is different in these two geographical borders. According to him that the lesbian and gay rights movement has been more successful in drawing attention and exerting influence is the contribution of jurisdictional structure of Canada which is more centralized in comparison to that of the US federalism which is highly decentralized.
Theoretically, the author opines that any generalization about the concept of centralized or decentralized jurisdictional structure is hindering to the understanding of the condition of the country regarding the lesbian and gay rights. The lesbian and gay rights are a part of human rights. It is evident from the author’s presentation that the institutional configurations that a country develops within its federal structure are the pivotal force behind the development of public policy structure and the public opinion as well. The human rights policy of the federalism is largely influences by the mobilization activities of politics itself. The divergence of policies between Canada and the US is, in the author’s opinion, responsible for the ‘political institutional difference’. It is quite evident from the paper that the theory of historical institutionalism is not only effective but an efficient tool also in enabling federalism to regulate and modify the human rights policies and facilitate its evolution along with the advancement of time. This way the author rejects the concept that the political culture alone is sufficient or efficient enough to back the rights of the humans including the lesbians and gays.
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The perspective from which the author writes the paper is oriented towards both society and the state making it a society centered as well as state centred perspective. The state here is conceptualized from the point of view of the US and Canada in terms of the political policies managing the human rights inclusive of lesbian and gay rights. The people of this particular society and what they have to experience while voicing for their rights, are largely imbued by the policy legacies of the two chosen countries and are equally obstacle by the barriers that exist in the political and jurisdictional sectors. But from this paper we find that, in comparison with the U.S. Canada has more flexibility in its approach towards the lesbian and gay rights which has earned the country the trust and faith of the public as the policy has been modified accordingly. Also, a substantive approach towards this issue is also another strength that Canadian policy has executed. Throughout the paper, time and again the author has expressed his opposition to the concept of political institutions and their contribution in policymaking. Sometimes with the help of other scholars and their works, the author, Smith, has tried to put more emphasis on this. He brings ion his work the context of Ellen Immergut and her work where the inability of political institution to associate with the changing gender policies, norms and the attitude towards sexuality is focused upon.
The title of the paper gives an indication that it is going to discus about the lesbian and gay rights in Canada and the US and draw up a stark contradiction to the policy implemented in both countries and at the same time enable the reader have a look into the present federalism in the lights of historical institutional theory. Throughout the paper the author mainly discusses the question and finds answer to it that in spite of being quite similar in societal approaches, the rules and policies regarding the rights of lesbians and gays are quite contradictory to each other. In doing so, the author has introduced the readers to the political culture of the two countries and the cross- cultural policies. While all over Canada same sex marriage is permissible granting the people of lesbian and gay community their rights, the US has only selective states where such unison is permissible. But truly it is quite interesting because anti discrimination policies, though fully existent in Canada is not entertained in the US.
The jurisdiction of the US itself has contradictions and conflict of ideas, as derived from the author’s perspectives. We can see from the paper that in some cases the state courts give their opinion in favour of the same sex relationship but the same is strictly opposed by other legislatures and in the end the issue has been deprived of the state law recognition. Decriminalization of homosexuality is another fuel to the fire in support of the lesbian gay rights in Canada while the US has failed to do so in greater extent. But the author himself seems to look for answer to the question that despite the political, social, economic and even historical similarities, these two areas lack similarity in human rights policy and that too in the twenty first century when most parts of the world are becoming supportive towards the issue.
Another perspective that can be obtained from the author’s perspective is that the support towards same sex relationship and recognition of lesbian rights are affected by public opinion also. Such opinion can come in the form of religious beliefs or resources from social media. But this should also be kept in mind that these explanations from political cultural aspect cannot shape how the policy change would occur in Canada, though this might have a possibility in the US. Institutional factors are different in the US and Canada to such an extent that the difference is capable enough to give rise to divergent policies also. From here only the federal political arrangements also become effective enough for contributing to the same-sex state policies to be politically visible.
From the perspective that the author developed from the approach of the US towards the Lawrence case in 2003, it can be derived that the main facility which Canada has is, there is no strong opposition to counter the decision of the court on the ground of conservative attitude. But the US has its Christian rights and other forces which call them as conservative and actually oppose whenever the state law takes a positive decision regarding lesbian and gay rights. The ‘notwithstanding clause’, which is otherwise costly for the federal government, is used in Canada for deployment purpose.
From the point of view of theoretical perspective the author has been keen in his opinions and successfully points out the differences in acceptance and support towards the lesbian and gay rights. Also, the paper began with the intention to find answer to why Canada and the US, though similar in most aspects, are different in their attitude towards lesbian and gay rights. With proper and in depth analysis of the institutionalism and federalism the perspective has been successful in identifying the same.