Sexuality Research and Social Policy

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 290–301 | Cite as

Factors Affecting Heterosexual Attitudes to Same-Sex Marriage in Australia

  • Jessica Leigh Sloane
  • Laurance Madeleine Robillard


Same-sex marriage (SSM) has been a contentious topic in recent times. Despite current trends indicating that support for same-sex marriage is on the rise in Australia, attempts to introduce marriage equality legislation have failed. This study examined influential factors affecting attitudes towards same-sex marriage in Australia. A sample of heterosexual Australians completed a survey regarding their attitudes to marriage equality, homophobia, beliefs about a nature or nurture basis for same-sex attraction, common assumptions and beliefs about the etiology of same-sex attraction and social desirability. Believing that the etiology of same-sex attraction is nature-based predicted positive attitudes towards same-sex marriage whereas thinking sexual orientation is nurture-based predicted negative attitudes. Mediation analysis was used to assess the relationship between etiology beliefs and attitudes towards same-sex marriage. Homophobia fully explained the effect of nature beliefs and partially explained the effect of nurture beliefs on attitudes to same-sex marriage. Given that attitudes towards same-sex marriage are not created in a vacuum, the study also explored what people felt were their most influential sources of beliefs about the origins of same-sex attraction. The implications of the research findings for those lobbying for marriage equality in Australia are discussed.


Same-sex marriage Etiology beliefs Gay men Lesbian Attitudes Australia 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. American Psychological Association. (2011). Resolution on marriage equality for same-sex couples. Retrieved from
  2. Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. (2015). Don’t mess with marriage: A pastoral letter from the Catholic Bishops of Australia to all Australians on the ‘same-sex marriage’ debate. Retrieved from
  3. Australian Human Rights Commission. (2012). Marriage equality in a changing world: Position paper on marriage equality. Retrieved from
  4. Australian Marriage Alliance. (2015). There’s more to it than you think. Retrieved from
  5. Australian Marriage Forum. (2015). Its not marriage. Retrieved from
  6. Australian Psychological Society. (2010). Submission to senate inquiry: Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010. Retrieved from
  7. Badgett, M. V. L. (2011). Social inclusion and the value of marriage equality in Massachusetts and the Netherlands. J Soc Issues, 67(2), 316–334. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2011.01700.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator–mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(6), 1173–1182. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.51.6.1173.
  9. Baunach, D. M. (2011). Decomposing trends in attitudes toward gay marriage, 1988-2006. Soc Sci Q, 92(2), 346–363. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6237.2011.00772.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Brumbaugh, S. M., Sanchez, L. A., Nock, S. L., & Wright, J. D. (2008). Attitudes toward gay marriage in states undergoing marriage law transformation. Journal of Marriage & Family, 70(2), 345–359. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2008.00486.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chonody, J. M., Kavanagh, P. S., & Woodford, M. R. (2016). Does closeness to someone who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual influence etiology beliefs about homosexuality? J Homosex, 1–23. doi: 10.1080/00918369.2016.1172863.
  12. Costa, P. A., Almeida, R., Anselmo, C., Ferreira, A., Pereira, H., & Leal, I. (2014). University students’ attitudes toward same-sex parenting and gay and lesbian rights in Portugal. J Homosex, 61(12), 1667–1686. doi: 10.1080/00918369.2014.951253.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Crosby Textor. (2014). Same-sex marriage research 2014: Summary results. Retrieved from
  14. Crowne, D. P., & Marlowe, D. (1960). A new scale of social desirability independent of psychopathology. J Consult Psychol, 24(4), 349–354. doi: 10.1037/h0047358.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Dane, S. K., Masser, B. M., MacDonald, G., & Duck, J. M. (2010). Not so private lives: National findings on the relationships and well-being of same-sex attracted Australians. St Lucia: The University of Queensland Retrieved from Scholar
  16. Field, A. (2013). Discovering statistics using IBM SPSS statistics (4th ed.). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  17. Galupo, M. P., & Pearl, M. L. (2008). Bisexual attitudes toward same-sex marriage. Journal of Bisexuality, 7(3-4), 287–301. doi: 10.1080/15299710802171357
  18. Grey, J. A., Robinson, B. E., Coleman, E., & Bockting, W. O. (2013). A systematic review of instruments that measure attitudes toward homosexual men. Journal of Sex Research, 50(3/4), 329–352. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2012.746279.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Haider-Markel, D. P., & Joslyn, M. R. (2008). Beliefs about the origin of homosexuality and support for gay rights. Public Opinion Quarterly, 72(2), 291–310. doi: 10.1093/poq/nfn015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Haslam, N., & Holland, E. (2012). Attitudes towards asylum seekers: The Australian experience. In D. Bretherton & N. Blavin (Eds.), Peace psychology in Australia (pp. 107–120). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Haslam, N., & Levy, S. R. (2006). Essentialist beliefs about homosexuality: Structure and implications for prejudice. Personal Soc Psychol Bull, 32(4), 471–485. doi: 10.1177/0146167205276516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hayes, A. F. (2009). Beyond Baron and Kenny: Statistical mediation analysis in the new millennium. Commun Monogr, 76(4), 408–420. doi: 10.1080/03637750903310360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. London: Guilford.Google Scholar
  24. Hegarty, P., & Pratto, F. (2001). Sexual orientation beliefs: Their relationship to anti-gay attitudes and biological determinist arguments. J Homosex, 41(1), 121–135. doi: 10.1177/0146167205276516.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Herek, G. M. (1988). Heterosexuals’ attitudes toward lesbians and gay men: Correlates and gender differences. Journal of Sex Research, 25(4), 451–477. doi: 10.1080/00224498809551476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Johnson, C. (2015). Why Australia is so far behind the times on same-sex marriage. The Conversation. Retrieved from
  27. Keany, F & Holman, J. (2016). Same-sex marriage plebiscite blocked by Senate. ABC News. Retrieved from
  28. King, K. A. (2007). Marriage Amendment Act: Can Australia prohibit same-sex marriage. Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal 16(1), 137–165. Retrieved from
  29. Landén, M. S. (2002). The effect of a biological explanation on attitudes towards homosexual persons. A Swedish national sample study. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 56(3), 181–186. doi: 10.1080/080394802317607156.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Leonard, W., Lyons, A., & Bariola, E. (2015). A closer look at lives 2: Addressing the mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Australians, Monograph series no. 103. Melbourne: Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society. doi: 10.4225/50/557E58D55A595.Google Scholar
  31. Lewis, G. B. (2009). Does believing homosexuality is innate increase support for gay rights? Policy Studies Journal, 37(4), 669–693. doi: 10.1111/j.1541-0072.2009.00330.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Loo, R., & Thorpe, K. (2000). Confirmatory factor analyses of the full and short versions of the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale. J Soc Psychol, 140(5), 628–635. doi: 10.1080/00224540009600503.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) (Austl.). (2014). Retrieved from:
  34. Marriage Amendment (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 (Cth) (Austl.). Retrieved from
  35. Marriage Amendment Act 2004 (Cth) (Austl.). Retrieved from
  36. Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010 (Cth) (Austl.). Retrieved from
  37. Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 (Cth) (Austl.). Retrieved from
  38. Mathy, R. M., Kerr, S. K., & Lehmann, B. A. (2004). Mental health implications of same-sex marriage. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 15(2–3), 117–141. doi: 10.1300/J056v15n02_07.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Moskowitz, D. A., Rieger, G., & Roloff, M. E. (2010). Heterosexual attitudes toward same-sex marriage. J Homosex, 57(2), 325–336. doi: 10.1080/00918360903489176.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  40. Mosler, D. (2002). Australia, the recreational society. Bloomington, Westport: Praeger.Google Scholar
  41. de Oliveira, J. M., Lopes, D., Cameira, M., & Nogueira, C. (2014). Attitudes towards same-sex marriage in Portugal: Predictors and scale validation. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 17, E93. doi: 10.1017/sjp.2014.96.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Olson, L. R., Cadge, W., & Harrison, J. T. (2006). Religion and public opinion about same-sex marriage. Social Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell), 87(2), 340–360. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6237.2006.00384.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Overby, L. M. (2013). Etiology and attitudes: Beliefs about the origins of homosexuality and their implications for public policy. J Homosex, 61(4), 568–587. doi: 10.1080/00918369.2013.806175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pearl, M. L., & Galupo, M. P. (2007). Development and validation of the attitudes toward same-sex marriage scale. J Homosex, 53(3), 117–134. doi: 10.1300/J082v53n03_07.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Pedersen, A., Clarke, S., Dudgeon, P., & Griffiths, B. (2005). Attitudes toward indigenous Australians and asylum seekers: The role of false beliefs and other social-psychological variables. Aust Psychol, 40(3), 170–178 Retrieved from Scholar
  46. Pitts, M., Smith, A., Mitchell, A., & Patel, S. (2006). Private lives: A report on the health and wellbeing of GLBTI Australians (monograph series number 57). Melbourne: Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society Retrieved from Scholar
  47. Ramos, C., Goldberg, N. G., & Badgett, M. V. L. (2009). The effects of marriage equality in Massachusetts: A survey of the experiences and impact of marriage on same-sex couples. The Williams Institute. Retrieved from
  48. Reynolds, W. M. (1982). Development of reliable and valid short forms of the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale. J Clin Psychol, 38(1), 119–125. doi: 10.1002/1097-4679(198201)38:1<119::AID-JCLP2270380118>3.0.CO;2-I.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sheldon, J. P., Pfeffer, C. A., Jayaratne, T. E., Feldbaum, M., & Petty, E. M. (2007). Beliefs about the etiology of homosexuality and about the ramifications of discovering its possible genetic origin. J Homosex, 52(3–4), 111–150. doi: 10.1300/J082v52n03_06.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  50. Smith, S. J., Zanotti, D. C., Axelton, A. M., & Saucier, D. A. (2011). Individuals’ beliefs about the etiology of same-sex sexual orientation. J Homosex, 58(8), 1110–1131. doi: 10.1080/00918369.2011.598417.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Walker, K. (2007). The same-sex marriage debate in Australia. The International Journal of Human Rights, 11(1–2), 109–130. doi: 10.1080/13642980601176290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Webb, S. N., & Chonody, J. (2012). Marriage equality in Australia: The influence of attitudes toward same-sex parenting. Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology, 8(3), 13 Retrieved from Scholar
  53. Webb, S. N., & Chonody, J. (2014). Heterosexual attitudes toward same-sex marriage: The influence of attitudes toward same-sex parenting. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 10(4), 404–421. doi: 10.1080/1550428X.2013.832644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Whitley, J. B. E. (2009). Religiosity and attitudes toward lesbians and gay men: A meta-analysis. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 19(1), 21–38. doi: 10.1080/10508610802471104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wight, R. G., LeBlanc, A. J., & Badgett, M. V. L. (2013). Same-sex legal marriage and psychological well-being: Findings from the California Health Interview Survey. Am J Public Health, 103(2), 339–346. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.301113.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  56. Wilson, S. (2004). Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender identification and attitudes to same-sex relationships in Australia and the United States. People and Place, 12(4), 12 Retreived from Scholar
  57. Wood, P. B., & Bartkowski, J. P. (2004). Attribution style and public policy attitudes toward gay rights. Soc Sci Q, 85(1), 58–74. doi: 10.1111/j.0038-4941.2004.08501005.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Woodford, M. R., Chonody, J., Scherrer, K., Silverschanz, P., & Kulick, A. (2012). The ‘persuadable middle’ on same-sex marriage: Formative research to build support among heterosexual college students. Sex Res Soc Policy, 9(1), 1–14. doi: 10.1007/s13178-011-0073-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica Leigh Sloane
    • 1
  • Laurance Madeleine Robillard
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Health, Medical and Applied SciencesCentral Queensland UniversityBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.School of Health, Medical and Applied SciencesCentral Queensland University, Brisbane CampusBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations