The will of the people is one thing, but it may be the influence of the few that has the greatest impact on the rise of gay rights, according to a study from the US.
In The Presence and Impact of Openly Gay and Lesbian Politicians in the Parliaments of the World, Political Science PhD Andrew Reynolds has found that the number of openly gay, lesbian and transgendered people serving in national legislatures around the world has tripled over the past 10 years, providing evidence that while gay pollies may be in the minority, their influence is powerful.
The role out politicians play in achieving legislative change goes beyond merely raising their concerns according to Reynolds.
When the gay person becomes a person with a name, human talents and foibles, aging parents, young children and opinions about the latest TV show, it becomes more difficult for their parliamentary colleagues to overtly discriminate against or fail to protect them through legislation, he said.
Gay members of parliaments have never been numerous enough to act as a voting block with leverage, but they can be legislative entrepreneurs who help set agendas and educate their colleagues on related issues.
After looking at the political make up of 76 countries, Reynolds identified only 18 with openly gay legislators -” most in nations with an established democracy.
All 76 were then assigned points for the presence of gay-friendly policies in the areas of legal relationships, marriage, civil unions, adoption rights, anti-discrimination laws, hate-crime laws and the treatment of gays in the military.
Countries with more openly gay and lesbian members scored better overall with Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands and Spain (all of which recognise same-sex marriage) scoring the highest. Egypt, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Singapore received the lowest rankings.
The highest-scoring nations tended to have the most LGBT legislators. Having even a few openly gay legislators is linked with a significant improvement in the legal rights of gay people, Reynolds said.
Globally, the trajectory is clear. More openly gay candidates are winning office and legal equality, across a variety of domains, is gathering momentum.