Direct Democracy and Minority Rights: Same-Sex Marriage Bans in the U.S. States


  • *Direct correspondence to Daniel C. Lewis, Department of Political Science, University of New Orleans, 2000 Lakeshore Dr., New Orleans, LA 70148 〈〉. The author will share data and coding information with those wishing to replicate the study. The author thanks Saundra K. Schneider, William G. Jacoby, Frederick S. Wood, Matthew L. Jacobsmeier, and the anonymous reviewers for their assistance in developing this article.


Objectives. A common critique of direct democracy posits that minority rights are endangered by citizen legislative institutions. By allowing citizens to directly create public policy, these institutions avoid the filtering mechanisms of representative democracy that provide a check on the power of the majority. Empirical research, however, has produced conflicting results that leave the question of direct democracy's effect on minority rights open to debate. This article seeks to empirically test this critique using a comparative, dynamic approach.

Methods. I examine the diffusion of same-sex marriage bans in the United States using event-history analysis, comparing direct-democracy states to non-direct-democracy states.

Results. The results show that direct-democracy states are significantly more likely than other states to adopt same-sex marriage bans.

Conclusion. The findings support the majoritarian critique of direct democracy, suggesting that the rights of minority groups are at relatively higher risk under systems with direct democracy.