Do people attribute emotions differently to members of various social groups? If so, do these differences have any bearing on formal and informal forms of social recognition? Using data from a nationally representative survey experiment, we examine whether American heterosexuals differentially attribute love to lesbian, gay, and heterosexual couples. We also examine the relationship between how in love lesbian, gay, and heterosexual couples are perceived to be and attitudes toward (1) granting them partnership benefits (formal rights); (2) the acceptability of their public displays of affection (informal privileges); and (3) marriage. Three main findings suggest that heterosexuals differentially attribute love to different types of romantic couples and that these differences are related to willingness to grant social recognition. First, gay couples are viewed as less loving than both heterosexual and lesbian couples; lesbian couples are seen as equally loving as heterosexual couples. Second, perceptions of love are related to willingness to grant social recognition. Third, perceptions of love matter more for gay and, to a lesser extent, lesbian couples than for heterosexual couples regarding informal privileges and marriage. In contrast, love matters equally for same-sex and heterosexual couples regarding formal rights. The results show that gay couples are penalized most in terms of perceptions of love and social recognition, whereas lesbians occupy a liminal space between heterosexual and gay couples. Collectively, these findings suggest that sexual identity and gender shape emotional attributions, which in turn play a key role in explaining inequalities that same-sex couples face.


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pp. 401-425
Launched on MUSE
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