John M. Becker

Study: People Think Same-Sex Couples Are Less 'In Love'

Filed By John M. Becker | August 22, 2014 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: double standard, equal love, gay marriage, heterosexism, heterosexual privilege, in love, love is love, marriage equality, perception, same-sex marriage, scientific study

loving-female-african-american-couple.jpgA new study out of Indiana University suggests that how "in love" people perceive a couple to be depends in large part on whether the couple in question is gay or straight.

Perhaps more disturbing, couples that respondents perceived to be more "in love" were judged to be more worthy of formal and informal rights. And as one might expect, a starkly heterosexist hierarchy emerged, with opposite-sex couples being perceived as more "in love" -- and therefore more deserving of basic rights and protections -- than same-sex couples.

Via press release:

Long Doan, a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at IU Bloomington's College of Arts and Sciences, said the study was created to understand how people's attitudes differ based on sexual orientation...

Doan and his colleagues Annalise Loehr and Lisa R. Miller, doctoral students in the Department of Sociology, developed a study that asked participants to read the exact same story about a romantic couple, while randomly changing the names of the two main characters to denote whether the couple was heterosexual, lesbian or gay.

The findings suggest that people seem to think of loving relationships in a hierarchy, with heterosexual couples being the most "in love," followed by lesbian couples and then gay couples. Additionally, how "in love" a participant understood the couple to be led them to decide how many informal or formal rights they may deserve as a couple, from holding hands in public to having the right to marry. [Emphasis mine.]

Doan pointed out that the average person usually has "different images in mind" for same-sex couples and straight couples. For example, they're a lot more likely to presume a romantic straight couple is married than a romantic gay or lesbian one (an infuriating double standard that I've written about at length). But by controlling for that disparity, Doan was able to determine that the differences in how "in love" couples are perceived to be are due to their sexual orientation rather than other factors like presumed marital status.

So what does this mean for the LGBT rights movement? Here's Doan's take:

"There's a lot of focus on portraying gay couples as just as loving as straight couples. This should be an effective approach because it seems that people are swayed by the notion of love. If you can somehow convince people that gay couples are just as loving, then it seems more likely that the movement will gain more support."

This all reminds me of the backlash that ensued earlier this year after NFL draft pick Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend on live television. Michelangelo Signorile, Mark Joseph Stern, and others wrote at the time that even with as far as we've come on LGBT civil rights, people still aren't used to seeing same-sex couples kissing and displaying affection in public. They're right, of course, but what this new Indiana study shows is that what people don't know about same-sex couples -- that we're every bit as affectionate and capable of deeply profound love as our straight counterparts -- can, in fact, hurt us.

So don't hide your love -- share it with the world! It will feel great, and you'll be advancing the LGBT civil rights movement to boot.
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