The power of cities

I’ve finally gotten settled in Buenos Aires, capitol of one of the world’s most progressive countries on LGBT rights. In addition to becoming the first country in Latin America to legalize gay marriage a couple years ago, it passed a landmark gender identity law earlier this year that even its supporters describe as “radical.” Its progressive laws are having a spill-over effect on its northern neighbor, Uruguay, which is poised to pass its own marriage law sometime this fall.

When I’ve asked LGBT activists in these two countries how they’ve gained so much ground so quickly, I get one answer that surprises me: the power of cities. In both countries, they tell me, about half the population lives within the capitol’s metro area. And the media is heavily concentrated in the capitol, too, so if they can win sympathetic coverage on the airwaves they can shape the impressions of much of the rest of population.

Of course there are other factors that shape the evolution of the gay marriage debate. But it’s interesting to ask whether there’s a larger structural effect here–is there a strong correlation between urbanization and LGBT-friendly laws? What does this mean in countries like Brazil, where activists are close to winning full marriage rights but are facing much more successful pushback than activists experienced in Argentina?

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