New research indicates that marriage and political activism are intertwined, but the nature of this relationship differs based on sexual identities. Married heterosexual individuals tend to be less politically active, while sexual minorities, particularly lesbians and gay men, may experience increased political engagement after marriage. The study highlights the importance of considering both marital status and sexual identities when examining political activism.
The findings have been published in Political Research Quarterly.
The rationale behind this study was to examine the relationship between marriage and political activism, specifically focusing on how marriage impacts the political engagement of both heterosexual individuals and sexual minorities. The study aims to fill a gap in the existing literature by exploring if heterosexual, gay, and lesbian marriages function in similar or different ways in terms of political activism.
“This study addresses the links between marriage, sexual identities, and joining social movements,” said study author Eric Swank, a clinical associate professor at Arizona State University West Campus. “Earlier studies have noted several trends.”
“First, few people join social movements but getting married seems lessens the support of antiwar, feminist, and racial justice social movements among heterosexuals. Second, marriage also seems to slightly increase the likelihood of joining pro-life activism as well. Third, the research literature is uncertain as to whether this pattern of marital conservativism applies to lesbian or gay married people.”
To conduct the study, the researchers used data from the 2010-2012 American National Election Study (ANES), which relied on respondents from Knowledge Networks (KN). The sample consisted of 3,815 individuals who identified themselves as either heterosexual, lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
The majority of the sample (95.5%) identified as heterosexual, while a small percentage identified as lesbian/gay (2.5%) or bisexual (2.0%). The sample had a mean age of 51.6 years and skewed slightly towards cisgender males (50.8%). Racially, 66% identified as White non-Hispanic, 14% as Black, and 14% as Hispanic.
The researchers measured political activism using various variables, including recent participation in protest marches, involvement in liberal and conservative social movements, and engagement in the LGBT rights movement. Marital status was categorized into four variables: currently married, widowed, divorced or separated, and never married. Sexual identities were categorized into three variables: lesbian/gay, bisexual, and heterosexual.
The results of the study showed that marital status and sexual identities both had significant impacts on political activism. Married individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, were less likely to engage in the LGBT rights movement and other liberal social movements compared to single individuals. Widowed individuals were also less likely to participate in both the LGBT rights movement and liberal non-LGBT movements. However, marital status did not significantly affect participation in protests or conservative social movements.
When looking at sexual identities, the researchers observed a noticeable “sexuality gap” in liberal activism. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals were more active in social justice movements compared to heterosexuals. Bisexuals were less likely to join liberal social movements than gay men and lesbians, and sexual identity did not significantly influence participation in conservative social movements.
When examining the relationships between marital status and political activism for different sexual identities, the study found that marriage generally decreased liberal activism and increased conservative activism for heterosexuals. However, marriage had different effects on political activism for sexual minorities. For lesbian and gay individuals, marriage increased their likelihood of participating in protests. Marriage did not significantly impact the political activism of bisexual individuals.
“The political effects of marriage varies by sexual identity,” Swank told PsyPost. “Lesbian and gay marriage people are more likely to join liberal social movements than single or divorced lesbians and gay men. This marital increase for lesbians and gay men is most pronounced around LGBT activism, but the marital boost also appears in feminist, environmental, and antiracist activism. As expected, heterosexual marriage had the opposite relationship for heterosexuals.”
But the study, like all research, includes some caveats.
“This sample was collected in the United States and may not apply to citizens in other countries,” Swank explained. “The sample as also collected in 2010-2012, back when same-sex marriage was legalized in a state-by-state basis. The role of marriage in political activism may have changed after the U.S, supreme court ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges.”
The study, “Sexual Identities and the Role of Marriage in Social Movement Activism“, was authored by Eric Swank.