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Beyond Backlash: Assessing the Impact of Judicial Decisions on LGBT Rights


  • For helpful comments on or assistance with this article as it proceeded through various drafts, I would like to thank Jeb Barnes, David Garrow, Julie Gozan, Bill Haltom, Art Leonard, Richard Price, Carroll Seron, Ken Sherrill, Stephen Siegel, Miriam Smith, and several anonymous reviewers. In addition, Professor Leonard's monthly publication, Lesbian/Gay Law Notes, was an invaluable resource.

Please address correspondence to Thomas M. Keck, Department of Political Science, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244-1090; e-mail:


This article evaluates the widespread scholarly claim that the courtroom victories of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights movement have invariably provoked a counterproductive political backlash. Those victories have indeed provoked conservative countermobilization, but that has not been their only or even their most prominent effect. Assessing the political reaction to the movement's judicial victories, the policy impact of those victories, and the alternative strategic paths that were available to the movement at the outset, I argue that here, as elsewhere, legal mobilization has sometimes been a promising avenue for pursuing policy changes whose prospects were otherwise quite limited.