If you have a Facebook account, you may have noticed a sudden explosion of rainbow-tinted profile pictures on June 26 of 2015. As a reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize same-sex marriage, a large population of American citizens celebrated. Yet an opposition to same-sex marriage continues to persist. Surprisingly, this vocal opposition can be heard most from those who most strongly support the institution of marriage.
Why would the greatest proponents of marriage itself oppose the equality of marriage? Is it religious reasons, a belief in the sanctity of marriage, or simply personal beliefs? David Pinsof and Martie Haselton, both of the University of California Los Angeles, conducted a 2015 study on this opposition, noting an explanation through differences in short-term mating orientation (STMO) and mental associations – both implicit and explicit – between homosexuality and sexual promiscuity.
Pinsof and Haselton hypothesized an apparent connection between STMO and one’s social conservatism or liberalism. They argued that social conservatives perceive a higher threat from sexual promiscuity because they are inclined towards early marriage and child rearing, which hinders women’s occupational attainment and makes them more economically dependent on their husbands. These women then face increased costs of abandonment, while their husbands – having more children than a social liberal who delayed family formation – face increased costs of adultery. In turn, social conservatives tend to perceive sexual promiscuity more negatively, whereas social liberals’ delay in family formation provides them the opportunity to have multiple sexual partners. They then tend to conceptualize promiscuity in a much more positive light.
Using random assignment to one of two conditions – gay men or lesbians, with subsets of promiscuous or monogamous conditions – Pinsof and Haselton measured implicit associations between sexual orientation and promiscuity. Participants took an Implicit Association Test (IAT) pairing “straight” with “monogamous” and “gay” with “promiscuous,” then switching them in the second trial so as to pair “straight” with “promiscuous” and “gay” with “monogamous.” The idea was to categorize images and terms into one of the two sets of paired words, and the delay in doing so between different trials would indicate an implicit bias of association between those words. For example, if the participants were much faster to categorize words while “straight” was paired with “monogamous” and “gay” was paired with “promiscuous,” it would illustrate bias that the term “gay” is implicitly associated with promiscuity.
Their results supported exactly this: a faster association was found for “gay” and “promiscuous” than was for “gay and “monogamous.” Additionally, this association was markedly higher in the lesbian women condition than in the gay men condition. Pinsof and Haselton hypothesized that this difference could be accounted for by the portrayal of lesbian sexuality in various media sources, but admit that their attempt to control for plausible confounds was far from exhaustive, as the origin of implicit biases such as those measured by their implicit association test are multifaceted in nature. Their results, therefore, could also be in part caused by moral outrage, perceived threats to community values, and fears of unwanted sexual interest, just to name a few. Such portrayals and stereotypes may account for the conservative opposition to same-sex marriage. That is, since those with low STMO are more threatened by promiscuity and perceive gay men and lesbians as sexually promiscuous, they are likely to oppose same-sex marriage.
Though support for same-sex marriage has skyrocketed over the past decade – culminating in the aforementioned 2015 Supreme Court ruling – opponents of the institution still account for a fair percentage of the American population. However, based on the findings of Pinsof and Haselton, this opposition may have less to do with actual beliefs, and more to do with self-interest. By understanding the difference in beliefs of social conservatives and liberals, we have the opportunity to move forward as a country – not only in the acceptance of same-sex marriage, but in numerous other issues, as well.
Pinsof, D. & Haselton, M. (2016). The Political Divide Over Same-Sex Marriage: Mating Strategies in Conflict?. Psychological Science.
Their full article can be found at: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/02/26/0956797615621719.full