Institutions and Relationships Policy in Western Liberal Democracies
This thesis explores the influence of institutions in the development of policies dealing with adult intimate relationships in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States between 1990 and 2014. Over this period, the social importance and acceptance of non-“traditional” relationships has increased in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. However, despite all three countries working from what Gauthier describes as a “non-interventionist” approach to family policy, relationships policies have developed in markedly different ways in each. I argue that divergent translations of similar social trends are the result of differences between the structures of decision-making and institutions of interest representation in each country, and of policy legacies that make particular policy avenues more readily accessible. Electoral systems, parliamentary procedures and party structures govern which interests are able to exercise power within legislatures, while other institutions such as courts, bureaucracies, and law commissions contribute to the policy-making process in different ways. Countries are less likely to move in a non-interventionist or pro-egalitarian relationships policy direction where candidate selection procedures allow religious conservatives to play a significant role in both major parties, but religious conservatives have had little success in reversing non-interventionist policy changes after the fact. Instead, pro-traditionalist policy changes are typically minor regulatory changes or expenditures that are vulnerable to budget pressures. Legal interests expressed through law commissions or justice bureaucracies have a key role in enabling transitions to non-interventionist policies, particularly in the treatment of non-marital relationships, although the treatment of these relationships in core government activities such as taxation and welfare may also contribute to decisions in this area.