The Politics of Marriage Equality: Confrontational Interest Groups and Nonconfrontational Officeholders
By Christopher Baylor, College of the Holy Cross
The passage of marriage equality in Rhode Island offers insight into the role of organized groups and politicians in policymaking. Despite a Democratic legislature and popular support, marriage equality was initially defeated in 2011, in part due to concentrated opposition from the Catholic Church and the reluctance of Democratic officeholders to confront members of the same party on the issue. In the following primary elections, small interest groups in Rhode Island, with the help of national interest groups, helped raise the salience of marriage equality by campaigning against opponents, resulting in the release of a marriage equality bill from the Senate Judiciary Committee and its subsequent passage in a floor vote. One organized interest was responsible for blocking marriage equality in the legislature’s most significant bottleneck and different organized interests were responsible for enabling passage. The passage of marriage equality in Rhode Island shows that interest groups can enable as well as obstruct majority opinion.