Sexual Orientation Colors Perceptions of Romantic Relationships

Couple walks arm-in-arm on the beachImagine a deeply committed couple who are very much in love. What do the partners look like? Odds are good you envisioned a heterosexual couple, at least according to a new study, which found that heterosexual couples are taken more seriously than same-sex couples.

Perceptions about the closeness and commitment a couple shares can affect the rights to which that couple is privy. A couple perceived as uncommitted, for example, might find that one member of the couple is excluded from invitations or family news.

How Sexual Orientation Colors Perceptions

To evaluate how sexual orientation colors perceptions, researchers asked study participants to read a story about a romantic couple. In one reading, the names of the characters suggested a heterosexual relationship, while in another reading, the characters’ names suggested a same-sex relationship. All of the other details of the story were the same. This approach removed other possible explanations, such as marital status or length of time together, for how participants interpreted the couple’s relationship.

Researchers then asked the participants to judge how “in love” the characters in the story seemed. Even though the details of the two stories were the same, participants believed that the heterosexual couples seemed more in love than the gay or lesbian couples.

A Hierarchy of Relationships

The study’s authors suggest that study participants—and society as a whole—may view relationships hierarchically, with heterosexual relationships serving as the gold standard for loving, healthy relationships. They argue that people are more likely to support equal rights for couples they perceive to be more in love. Likewise, couples perceived to be in love may gain more respect for their informal rights, such as walking hand-in-hand down the street.

Historically, many gay rights activists have focused on portraying gay relationships as similar to straight ones. This study suggests that this approach could be effective, given that many people who participated in the study viewed non-heterosexual relationships as less serious and less loving than heterosexual ones.


How we perceive love can be affected by sexual orientation, which has implications for couples’ rights. (2014, August 18). Retrieved from 

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  • Jake


    August 18th, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    I am surprised to read that hereo relations are still thought to be the gold standard or whatever because I would have thought that most people are beginning to come around that gay and lesbian relationships can be just as loving and stable

  • Walter


    August 18th, 2014 at 8:46 PM

    Heterosexual relationships will always be the the Gold standard… can scream lgbt and gay pride until you are blue in the face but at the end of the day, when my family and I are out in public we are completely natural……however, take some time and observe how odd and uncomfortable homosexuals act, in fact the lot will put a bullseye on their self by holding hands in a way to show everyone their gay, when in fact noone cares.

  • randay


    August 19th, 2014 at 3:00 PM

    I think that a lot of it probably has to do with how happy you are in your own relationship, no matter whethre gay or straight.
    If you are in a loving relationship, no matter who that is with, you will probably see that same sort of relationship in a much better light than you will if your relationship holds a lot of anger or is abusive.
    The grass is always greener on the other side when your side feels a little withered.

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