Enemies of marriage equality are always going on about how allowing gay people to wed will irrevocably harm the holy unions of heterosexual couples. But a new study shows that people who make this claim think their own marriages are ironclad, raising the question: exactly whose marriage is being threatened?
Matthew Winslow, a psychologist at Eastern Kentucky University, says this phenomenon is a demonstration of the “third-person perception,” in which people believe others are much more influenced by outside sources—television, movies, gay people getting married—than they themselves are.
“It just dawned on me, most of the people who were really vehemently against gay marriage were not likely to say they were worried about their own marriages, but they talked about how if we allowed gay marriage it was going to be bad for society in general,” Winslow told the site LiveScience.
Winslow and his researchers polled 120 heterosexual unmarried college students on their support for gay marriage, their opinion about how marriage equality would affect their own and other people’s relationships, and their general political attitudes.
Though his test group was small, and leaned toward pro-marriage equality, Winslow did see third-person perception take effect.
The group most likely to see itself as impervious and others as vulnerable was composed of people with a personality trait called right-wing authoritarianism. People with this trait strongly value tradition and authority, and dislike people not in their own social group.
Right-wing authoritarians’ perceptions of themselves as strong and others as weak might help explain this group’s strong opposition to gay marriage, Winslow said. But the study, published April 10 in the journal Social Psychology, also highlights that everybody judges themselves as a little bit better than the next guy.
“If everyone believes that other people are more affected than they are, that’s just not logical,” said Winslow, who suggested that focusing on putting yourself in others’ shoes might help banish this bias. “If you believe you are not going to be affected by [same-sex marriage], just recognize that probably other people believe the same way, so the good news is that probably people aren’t going to be affected by it that much.”
That’s a nice idea, but applying logic to the thought processes of fundamentalist homophobes is kind of like trying to teach a cat to sit up and roll over. It just won’t work.