Same-sex marriage advances impact same-sex couples more directly than their heterosexual siblings, study shows

For Immediate Distribution
May 21, 2015

Lauren Jow,, 310-206-0314

LOS ANGELES — Advances in same-sex marriage impact family members to different degrees depending on how relevant those advances are to their own lives, according to a new report by researchers at Palo Alto University and the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

The study, titled “Windsor and Perry: Reactions of siblings in same-sex and heterosexual couples,” is the first study to ask same-sex couples and their heterosexual siblings about their reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in U.S. v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry. Those decisions in June 2013 extended marriage rights at the federal level to same-sex couples.

“Everyone in the same-sex couple subsample knew about the Supreme Court decisions,” said principal investigator Kimberly Balsam, professor of psychology at Palo Alto University. “On the other hand, several individuals in the heterosexual sibling couple subsample responded that they had not heard about the decisions, stated that did not know enough about the decisions in order to have an opinion, or expressed disapproval of the decisions.”

Responses from same-sex couples reflected a direct emotional, practical, and immediate impact of the decisions. Responses from heterosexual sibling couples reflected an impact by association, which included direct emotional impact for some, but not practical or immediate impacts on their lives.

Reactions of the 273 individuals currently or previously in same-sex couples revealed the following themes:

(1) an end to marriage restrictions—“It’s about time!”;
(2) emotional responses celebrating the decisions or expressing relief;
(3) affirmation of their relationship or rights;
(4) practical consequences of the extension of rights; and
(5) cautious optimism related to anticipation of future prejudice or discrimination.

Reactions of the 98 heterosexual siblings currently or previously married were:

(1) support as allies for the rights of same-sex couples: “It’s awesome!”;
(2) flat support without much emotion or elaboration;
(3) indifference to or ignorance about the decisions; and
(4) disapproval of the decisions.

“This is the first study to explore people’s reactions to a turning point in the federal government’s recognition of same-sex relationships, and to focus on same-sex couples and their heterosexual siblings,” said Esther Rothblum, visiting distinguished scholar at the Williams Institute.

Participants originally were recruited in 2002 for the CUPPLES Study, a longitudinal study of same-sex couples who legalized their relationship in 2000-2001 and a married heterosexual sibling of one of the couple members and their spouse. Siblings were chosen in order to obtain participants with similar backgrounds. The participants in the current study were surveyed between August 2013 and January 2014, or two to seven months following the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Read the full report.