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Sexual minority stigma and system justification theory: How changing the status quo impacts marriage and housing equality

Jordan A Blenner, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Sexual minorities (i.e. lesbians and gay men) experience systemic discrimination throughout the United States. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), in many states, same-sex couples could not marry and sexual minorities were not protected from sexual orientation housing discrimination (Human Rights Campaign, 2015). The current, two-experiment study applied Jost and Banaji’s (1994) System Justification Theory to marriage and housing discrimination. When sexual minorities question dissimilar treatment, thereby threatening the status quo, members of the heterosexual majority rationalize sexual minority discrimination to maintain their dominant status (Alexander, 2001; Brescoll, Uhlmann, & Newman, 2013; Citizens for Equal Protection v. Bruning, 2006; Jackson v. Abercrombie, 2012; Jost, Banaji, & Nosek, 2004; Rahman, 2004; Sevcik v. Sandoval, 2012). After sexual minority groups gained equality victories (i.e. Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, 2003; Romer v. Evans, 1996), heterosexual majority group members passed anti-marriage equality laws and did not pass sexual orientation discrimination protection (Alexander, 2001; Bishop v. Smith, tenth circuit, 2014; Geiger v. Kitzhaber, 2014; Goldberg-Hiller & Milner, 2003; Henry & Reyna, 2007; Kitchen v. Herbert, district court, 2013; Wardle, 2005). Justifications for rights deprivation include stereotypes specific to the legal question (e.g., “special rights” discourse) as well as basic sexual stigma (Bruning, 2006; Herek & Garnets, 2007; Herek, 2004; Jackson, 2012; Rahman, 2004; Sevcik, 2012). However, once a new status quo becomes likely, both majority and minority group members support the new status quo (Eidelman, Crandall, & Pattershall, 2009; Kay, Jimenez, & Jost, 2002). The present research examined whether threats and new status quo likelihood impact heterosexual individuals’ sexual orientation equality ballot decisions. The experiments manipulated current status quo by affirming or threatening it and status quo likelihood by telling participants that experts believed nationwide equality was 10% (or 30% or 60% or 90%) likely to occur by 2016. Experimental findings provide mixed support for system justification theory as an explanation for sexual stigma and discrimination in that individual differences variables determined participants’ equality ballot decisions. However, threat and uncertainty disrupted this effect. Thus, the current research informs future system justification research within the sexual minority context.

Subject Area

Law|Social psychology|GLBT Studies

Recommended Citation

Blenner, Jordan A, "Sexual minority stigma and system justification theory: How changing the status quo impacts marriage and housing equality" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI3738479.