Contesting marriage inequality on the hill and beyond
: a discourse-historical inquiry of the valleys of struggle within equal marriage mobilization in Northern Ireland

  • Ka-Ka Tsang

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Explanations of the sources, patterns and constraints for social change have long dominated cross-disciplinary debate from structural and social constructivist paradigms alike. This thesis questions the structure-agency hypothesis as incomplete and incapable of capturing the residual effects of related policy legacies and histories of institutional behavioural responses around previous policy interventions. This study traces the key developmental transitions in the campaign to achieve marriage equality in Northern Ireland (NI) as well as its key interactions with state-public actors.

This research documents how the institutional exceptionalism of the NI legislature compacted the political advocacy of the LGBTQ+ reformist leadership, leading to the abandonment of the NI Assembly pathway in pursuit of other reform routes. Drawing upon discourse opportunity theory and discourse institutionalism, this thesis attributes key moments of discursive state-actor contest and equally, innovations from the pro-equality reformist leadership as crucial to lifting of the movement beyond an otherwise barren policy legacy on the matter of marriage equality.

The study triangulates the use of thematic analysis of oppositional plenary statements, original interview data from the pro-equality campaign leadership and discourse historical analysis of campaign communications to explain divergence from a ‘traditional’ policy change route and the reformative discourses responsible for acclimating growing support for marriage equality in Northern Ireland.

The findings of this study contribute to contemporary debates regarding the measurement of mobilization dynamics and operationalization of enduring movement impacts. Restricting academic explanations to solely structural attributions for change, absolves the critical role that movements play in the execution and management of cultural interference in wider social attitudinal transformations. As social scientists, we may help elucidate these processes by designing more inclusive, diverse data samples which are also multi-modal. Only then may we harness better applications of current mobilization-outcome knowledge and better integrations of variable methods of data collection and analysis.
Date of AwardMay 2022
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment for the Economy
SupervisorFiona Bloomer (Supervisor) & Lucy Michael (Supervisor)


  • LGBT rights
  • Marriage equality
  • Equal marriage
  • Social movement theory
  • Social movement studies
  • LGBT protest

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