The LGBT Health & Development Program

Research Blog > Gender Nonconformity and the Case for Same-Sex Marriage

Posted on April 26th, 2013 by IMPACT in Featured, Research Blog. No Comments


Wedding photo with text: Asking who's the "man" & who's the "woman" in a same-sex relationship is like asking which chopstick is the fork.

Photo by Steve Garcia.

March 26, 2013, Charles Cooper argues that redefining marriage as a genderless institution might inflict harm by shifting its emphasis from child rearing to satisfying adults’ emotional needs. Research suggests this argument is specious; while same-sex marriage enhances the health of LGBT individuals [1,2], hostility toward same-sex marriage is a consequence of gender-nonconformity disapproval.

In the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Denney, Gorman, and Barrera (2013) found that same-sex cohabitors were more likely to report poorer health than married adults, suggesting that marriage bolsters physical health. Liu, Reczek, and Brown (2013) found similar results, even when controlling for SES.  Moreover, same-sex cohabitors had better health than heterosexual (non-married) cohabitors, widowers, and single individuals.

Still, this this pattern did not hold for Black and Hispanic females [4].  Black, same-sex cohabitating females exhibit worse health than heterosexual cohabitors. Hispanic women report similar health as heterosexual cohabitors, but worse health than never-married Hispanic females [4].  The authors suggest that female, racial-ethnic minorities experience a triple jeopardy, which makes them more vulnerable to stigma, discrimination, and economic disadvantages.

Researchers know a lot about antigay prejudice 

Lehavot and Lambert (2007) suggest that sexual prejudice occurs because LGBT individuals violate heteronormative gender-role expectations, and that gender nonconforming gays and lesbians experience more disapproval [5].

Parrot (2009) found that anti-femininity norms in heterosexual men mediate the relationship between sexual prejudice and anger toward gay men. Heterosexual men who adhere strongly to “traditional” masculinity norms experience discomfort when perceiving gay men as “feminine”. This suggests that heterosexual men punish gay men not only for challenging masculine gender norms, but also to validate their own masculinity. Heterosexual males’ hostility toward gender nonconformity parallels their opposition to same-sex marriage.

While general U.S. attitudes favoring same-sex marriage have increased, Maskowitz, Rieger, and Roloff (2010) found that heterosexual men oppose same-sex marriage more than heterosexual women, and that they have a preference of “lesbian marriage” over “gay marriage.” Anti-femininity norms, and broader disapproval of gender nonconformity, contribute toward heterosexuals’ opposition of same-sex marriage. Opposition to same-sex marriage is sexual prejudice.

Columnist Tiffany Wayne argues that same-sex marriage threatens “traditional marriage” by challenging gender norms, and psychological research supports this claim.  On average, many LGB individuals are more gender nonconforming than heterosexuals [8], and they challenge societal norms of how women and men “should” behave. They do so through egalitarian division of labor, and by challenging stereotypes such as the “breadwinner” [9,10,11]. Sexual minorities are both masculine and feminine, and this is good.

Psychologist Marvin Goldfried [12] suggests that same-sex marriage has achieved what the feminist movement alone was unable to, a household where children endorse less stereotypic gender roles. Emotionally healthy parents engender well-adjusted children. One perspective is to fear same-sex marriage and to conclude that it will destabilize the institution. A more realistic appraisal—supported through psychological research—suggests that same-sex marriage will provide a more nuanced understanding of relationships and uncover how restrictive gender roles undermine our sense of self.

For more about the many different ways of expressing gender, check out the IMPACT Program’s interactive Gender Identities & Expressions Map.


1. Hatzenbuehler, O’Cleirigh, Grasso, Mayer, Safren, & Bradford. (2011). Effect of Same-Sex Marriage Laws on Health Care Use and Expenditures in Sexual Minority Men: A Quasi-Natural Experiment. American Journal of Public Health, 102(2), 285-291. doi: 10.2105/ajph.2011.300382

2. Wight, R. G., LeBlanc, A. J., & Lee Badgett, M. V. (2012). Same-Sex Legal Marriage and Psychological Well-Being: Findings From the California Health Interview Survey. American Journal of Public Health, 103(2), 339-346. doi: 10.2105/ajph.2012.301113

3. Denney, J. T., Gorman, B. K., & Barrera, C. B. (2013). Families, Resources, and Adult Health: Where Do Sexual Minorities Fit? Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 54(1), 46-63. doi: 10.1177/0022146512469629

4. Liu, H., Reczek, C., & Brown, D. (2013). Same-Sex Cohabitors and Health: The Role of Race- Ethnicity, Gender, and Socioeconomic Status. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 54(1), 25-45. doi: 10.1177/0022146512468280

5. Lehavot, K., & Lambert, A. J. (2007). Toward a greater understanding of antigay prejudice: On the role of sexual orientation and gender role violation. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 29(3), 279-292. doi: 10.1080/01973530701503390

6. Parrott, D. (2009). Aggression toward gay men as gender role enforcement: Effects of male role norms, sexual prejudice, and masculine gender role stress. Journal of Personality, 77(4), 1137-1166. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00577.x

7. Moskowitz, D. A., Rieger, G., & Roloff, M. E. (2010). Heterosexual Attitudes Toward Same-Sex Marriage. Journal of Homosexuality, 57(2), 325-336. doi: 10.1080/00918360903489176

8. Rieger, G., Linsenmeier, J. A. W., Gygax, L., Garcia, S., & Bailey, J. M. (2010). Dissecting “gaydar”: Accuracy and the role of masculinity-femininity. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(1), 124-140. doi: 10.1007/s10508-008-9405-2

9. Jaspers, E., & Verbakel, E. (2013). The Division of Paid Labor in Same-Sex Couples in the Netherlands. Sex Roles, 68(5-6), 335-348. doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0235-2

10. Patterson, C. J. (2009). Lesbian and Gay Parents and their Children: A Social Science Perspective. In D. A. Hope (Ed.), Contemporary Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identities (Vol. 54, pp. 141-182): Springer New York.

11. Rothblum, E. (2009). An Overview of Same-Sex Couples in Relation Ships: A Research Area Still at Sea. In D. Hope (Ed.), Contemporary Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identities (Vol. 54, pp. 113-139): Springer New York.

12. Goldfried, M. R. (2009). Love, Marriage, and Baby Carriage Among Sexual Minorities- and Bias: Discussion of the 54th Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. In D. A. Hope (Ed.), Contemporary Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identities (Vol. 54, pp. 183-195). New York: Springer.

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