Struggle for Rights of Gay Marriage

Struggle for Rights of Gay Marriage
Gay marriage has been a controversial issue even in the modern society
given that marriage is traditionally defined as between a woman and a
man. The controversy surrounding the issue of marriage mainly results
from the fact that it is plural in both meaning and content. The
institution of marriage entails different aspects (including sexual
relationships, conversation, friendship, procreation, love, and mutual
responsibility. The rights of gay marriage are often advocated for on
the basis that marriage can exist without each of these aspects. The
push for the rights of gay marriage began in the 1970s, but it became a
controversy in the legal context when the Hawaii court declared gay
marriage to be unconstitutional (Herek, 2006). Since then, the issue of
gay marriages has drawn the attention of researchers, who have sought to
analyze it using a social psychological approach in order to determine
whether it should be legalized. This forms the context of this research
study. This paper will analyze the issue concerning the struggles for
the rights of gay marriages using sociological concepts such as
stereotyping, social comparison theory, social identity theory, and
self-categorization theory.
Stereotyping and rights of gay marriage
Over the years, the idea of homosexual marriage has been viewed as an
oppressive structure that was developed to control the heterosexual
society. To this end, the heterosexual society strongly believes that
same-sex marriage, which includes the gay marriage, does not fit the
definition of marriage and should not be accepted in the society.
According to Brow (2009) gay marriage and lesbianism stereotypes were
introduced and associated with capitalism where they gained significance
in the twentieth century because capitalism was associated with
homosexuality, luxury, and holidays. This makes the gay couples one of
the most stigmatized group in the society since they are thought of
being sick of sinful. Consequently, the gay couples face prejudice and
discrimination, social isolation, exclusion from heterosexual couples,
and threat of or real violence.
The historical perception that same-sex marriage and gay marriage in
particular is a departure from societal norms makes it hard to convince
the society to accord equal rights to homosexual and heterosexual
couples. According to Widiss, Rosenblatt & Nejaime (2007) there are two
forms of stereotype that gay groups and other members of the society who
support gay marriages should overcome to ensure these couples have
acquired their rights. First, facial sex discrimination against the gay
couples has gained its roots in the society as well as in the legal
system (through restrictive marriage statutes) where one is not allowed
to marry another person of the same sex, but would be allowed to marry
the same person if that person were of the opposite sex. Secondly, sex
stereotype argument relies on the traditional belief that men and women
play different family and marriage role to classify gay marriage as an
impermissible practice. This denies gay couples their right of
recognition in the society and in the legal context.
Social comparison theory
Social comparison theory holds that people define the self by evaluating
and comparing their own opinions and abilities with those of others with
an objective of reducing uncertainties in several domains such as
success, attractiveness, and intelligence (Psychology Today, 2013).
Upward comparison, conformity with group pressure, and social influence
are common occurrences among people who evaluate their own abilities by
comparing themselves with other people alongside their opinion.
Similarly, both gay and straight people compare themselves with each
other in order to identify their place in the community. The straight
people often compare their relationships with those of gay couples and
evaluate them on the basis of prospective and procreative associations
(Brow, 2009). Based on this argument, the straight couples feel that
their relationships are governed by agreeable genital stimulations. This
results in the development of a judgmental perspective among the
straight couples who argue that the gay relationship is aberrant,
unproductive and sexually selfish practice.
The gay couples, on the other hand, compare themselves with their
straight counterparts and argue that they deserve equal rights and
recognition in the society and in the legal context. According to McLeod
(2008) most of the claims used by straight couples to oppose the gay
marriage are inaccurate and argued that gay marriage overcomes some of
the traditional forms of stereotyping that are dominant among the
straight couples. The findings reported in the article indicated that
the straight couples believe that the masculine partner should be
independent while the less masculine spouse assumes the role of
submission, economic reliance, and dependence. The gay partners feel
that they should be treated equally and be considered in the society
since such misconceptions do not exist in the gay marriages. However,
the efforts of the gay people to push for gay marriage rights are handed
a severe setback since most people in the authority are straight.
Social identity theory
Social identity theory is based on the assumption that groups that
people associate themselves with are significant sources of pride and
self esteem. McLeod (2008) defined social identity as individuals’
perception of who they are based on a form of self-assessment that is
dependent on their group membership. This implies that groups give
people a sense of social identity and enhance their self-image. In
addition, the proposition help of social identity theory means that
people practice certain behavior to bolster their social standing within
the group. Moreover, the in-group status is a relative judgment that is
based contrast between values upheld by the in-group and values of other
groups that are relevant in the context. Based on these propositions,
heterosexual or straight persons may feel that legal recognition of gay
marriage threatens their social identity. This is because legal
recognition will reduce the status-based differences that exist between
homosexual and heterosexual couples, which imply that gays will be
accorded rights that they did not have in the past.
Research shows that many people support the same-sex civil unions than
the same sex marriage. According to Schmitt, Lehmiller & Walsh (2007) 33
% of the people in the United States supports the recognition of the
rights of same-sex couples compared to 54 % of people who support civil
unions. The strong opposition of same-sex marriages stems from the
perception that their recognition will grant legal protection and rights
to gays, bisexuals, and lesbians. In addition, the strong support
accorded the civil groups result from the fact that these unions provide
a typical subset of benefits that are provided by different-sex unions
provide. Moreover, the society thinks that marriage laws threaten
heterosexuals’ social status and rights compared to civil union laws.
This perceived threat mediates the impact of relationship label
regarding support for the law. Most importantly, politicians express
similar opinions to the general public and support legislative measures
that prohibit or limit same-sex marriages, but avoid precluding chances
of recognizing same-sex relationships under a different name other than
marriage (Schmitt, Lehmiller & Walsh, 2007). Therefore, with more and
more people opting for civil union, there is no way that same sex
marriage could acquire marriage equality.
Self-categorization theory
Self-categorization theory can be used to enhance the understanding of
the concept of gay marriage and causes of controversies surrounding the
issue. The self – categorization theory is based on the proposition that
the salient of identity depends on the context and specific social
comparisons that are available in any social context (Pierik, 2004). The
theory holds that the salience of a given in-group regarding a
particular identity increases when the context of that identify contains
some comparable out-group. In addition, the increase in salience of a
given social identity enhances self-stereotyping and perceived in-group
homogeneity. Similarly, the presence of gay marriage enhances the
salience of heterosexual identity among individuals who believe in
different-sex marriage. The comparative context between heterosexual
and homosexual couples affects in-group evaluation where each group
believes that its sexual orientation should be upheld and accepted by
the society. This limits the opportunity for gay couples to acquire the
right of recognition of their marriage since they are fewer than persons
of different-sex orientation.
Self-categorization result from processes of community building and
inscription. The two processes are caused by the adoption of some
practices and beliefs through enculturation and socialization. The
society has been made to believe that marriage refers to a union between
a man and a woman. Kihlstrom (2010) defined these beliefs as emotionally
guided social categories shared by the in-group members (gay couples in
this case) who share some form of stereotype among themselves.
Consequently, other forms of marriage that seems to depart from the
traditional prototype are perceived to be immoral and unacceptable. This
traditional belief in marriage between a man and a woman is better
founded in the minds of people than gay marriage that is generally
perceived to be an exploration of the unknown. This increases the
difficulty of advocating for the rights of minority groups whose beliefs
and practices in terms of marriage deviate from societal norms.
Kihlstrom (2010) identified that the majority of the gay partners
defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman. The researcher
gave an example of the same-sex married participant of San-Francisco who
said that he lives in suburb, drives an SUV, and could not find the
reason for not being married. This implied that the marathon
participants still believed in the traditional prototype of marriage in
spite of being in a same sex form of relationship.
Group thinking
Group thinking is a concept used in social psychology and assumes that
people tend to look for consensus within their group. This is
accomplished by setting aside all personal beliefs to adopt the opinion
of other members of the group (Rose, 2011). Group thinking is commonly
applied in scenarios in which people feel that objects may disturb
harmony within the group or cause other members of the group to reject
them. Similarly, most people in the society have the fear of expressing
their opinions about gay marriage in the public because they perceive
that the society, which is dominated by the straight people, might
reject them. This hinders the opportunity for gay couples to express
fight for their rights openly.
Cognitive dissonance theory
Cognitive dissonance theory is based on the proposition that people have
some inner drive that enables them to hold their inner beliefs and
attitude in harmony, thus avoiding dissonance (McLeod, 2008). This
occurs mainly in situations where people have conflicting behavior,
beliefs, or attitudes. The inner feeling results in discomfort that
alters one of behavior, belief, or attitude in an attempt to restore the
comfort. In the marriage context, the idea of homosexuality among the
gay couples raises a major conflict of beliefs where the majority of the
members of society believes in the traditional prototype of marriage
between a man and a woman. Consequently, people with different sex
orientations (such as gay couples) avoid public disclosure of their
beliefs, attitude, and behavior to maintain their comfortable existence
in the society. This reduces their capacity to advocate for equal
treatment with heterosexual couples.
Group polarization
Group polarization occurs when opinions and decisions of people in a
group become extreme compared to their private beliefs. In most cases,
the extreme decisions shift towards the greater risk of privately held
attitudes, behavior, or beliefs. The general idea held by the group may
change because of intensification and strengthening that the group
undergoes after some discussions. Gay marriage is a widely discussed
topic in the political system of the United States, but the initial idea
of issuing equal rights to gay couples often change and many politicians
becomes polarized against gay marriage. Consequently, politicians
support civil unions and express their tendency to prefer legislations
that would result in prohibition of same-sex marriages (Schmitt,
Lehmiller, & Walsh, 2007).
Stereotype, social comparison theory, social identity theory, and
self-categorization theory are the most suitable concepts for analyzing
the struggles for the right of recognition of gay marriages in the
society. The negative stereotyping against the gay couples arises from
the view that homosexual marriage was developed as a form of oppressing
heterosexual marriage. Under the social comparison theory, the straight
people compare themselves with gay couples with the main focus on
prospective and proactive relationships, which makes the straight people
believe that gay couples should not be given equal rights with
different-sex couples. In light of social identity theory, the straight
people perceive that legal recognition of gay marriages threatens social
identity of heterosexual marriages. Self-categorization theory enhances
the understandings that even the in-groups stereotype against their own
group and define the marriage context in terms of traditional
prototypes. These theoretical concepts makes that the fight for the
rights of gay marriages is tough and may not be completely won in the
near future.
Brow, K. (2009). The gendered elements of homosexual marriage and
society’s reactions to the issue. ANU Undergraduate Research Journal,
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Herek, G. (2006). Legal recognition of same-sex relationships in the
United States: A social science perspective. Berkeley: University of
Kihlstrom, F. (2010). Social categorization. Berkeley: University of
McLeod, S. (2008). Social identity theory. Simply Psychology. Retrieved
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McLeod, S. (2008). Cognitive dissonance. Simply Psychology. Retrieved
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Psychology Today (2013). Social comparison theory: What is the social
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Pierik, R. (2004). Conceptualizing cultural groups and cultural
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Rose, D. (2011). Diverse perspectives on the groupthink theory. Emerging
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Schmitt, T., Lehmiller, J. & Walsh, L. (2007). The role of heterosexual
identity threat in differential support for same-sex civil unions versus
marriage. Group Process & Intergroup Relations, 10 (4), 443-455.
Widiss, A., Rosenblatt, L. & Nejaime, D. (2007). Exposing sex
stereotypes in recent same-sex marriage jurisprudence. Harvard Journal
of Law & Gender, 30, 462-505.

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