Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court case holding that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, was widely hailed in the media as a turning point for the LGBTQ rights movement. In this article, I contemplate the meaning of turning points. Social movement scholars have shown that specific events can, on rare occasion, alter the subsequent trajectory of a social movement. Such events have been termed ‘transformative events.’ I ask whether judicial decisions have the capacity to be transformative events and, if so, under what circumstances. I begin by developing a set of criteria for identifying a transformative event which I then apply to a handful of judicial decisions that, like Obergefell, have been described widely as turning points and/or watersheds in the struggle for LGBTQ rights. I show that judicial decisions do indeed have transformative capacities; that they can trigger dramatic and enduring shifts in social movements. In so doing, I add to the growing body of scholarship examining the relationship between judicial decisions and social movement progress.
Ellen Ann Andersen, Transformative Events in the LGBTQ Rights Movement, 5 Ind. J.L. & Soc. Equality 441 (2017).