Despite the criticisms of the marriage equality movement’s narrow focus and failure to acknowledge the racial inequality, class cleavages, and marginalization within the community, black and other nonwhite members of the LGBT community have shown vociferous and continuous support for the legalization of same-sex marriage as one of the most important mainstream LGBT issues affecting their personal lives before the landmark ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015. Focusing on the perceived impact of same-sex marriage on respondents’ lives, I investigate the existence of a racial divide in the LGBT community. Further, employing the concept of identity salience hierarchy—the hierarchical organization of identities that make up the self based on the probabilities of each identity brought into play in a given situation—I unveil how differences in attitudes toward same-sex marriage are influenced by identity salience and experiences of discrimination among black LGBTs.
Using data from the 2010 Social Justice Sexuality Survey, the study used ordered logistic regression to examine the effects of identity salience and perceptions of discrimination on black LGBTs’ attitudes towards same-sex marriage. Respondents’ perceived impacts of the legalization of same-sex marriage are used as measures of attitudes towards same-sex marriage. Individual importance of racial and sexual identity as well as the relative importance of racial and/or sexual identity will be used to measure the strengths of respondents’ identity salience. In addition, respondents’ perceptions of marginalization are measured by their reported feelings of discomfort in the LGBT community due to one’s racial identity, in the racial community due to one’s LGBT identity, as well as the relative salience of racial or LGBT-identity based discrimination. Experiences of discrimination often functions as a structural reinforcement of one’s primary identity and therefore, may cause temporary changes in an individual’s identity salience hierarchy.
Three findings emerge from the analyses. First, black and non-black LGBTs’ perceptions of same-sex marriage do not differ significantly. Second, black LGBTs exhibit heterogeneous attitudes toward the effects of same-sex marriage legalization on their personal lives based on their racial and sexual identity salience. Third, the black LGBT identity salience hierarchy is fluid, intersectional, and context dependent.
This project makes important contributions to the discussion of same-sex marriage, management of multiple marginalized identities of sexual and racial minorities, and within-group inequality in the LGBT community as well as the black racial community. More specifically, the findings of this study challenge existing theories of identity salience among black LGBT individuals that emphasizes the inherent and static primacy of their racial identity over sexual identity. Further, the study shows that black LGBTs may perceive same-sex marriage as an opportunity to adhere to the politics of respectability and claim their insider status within the black racial community. This project is most suitable for a roundtable discussion that aims to better understand how racially and sexually marginalized individuals perceive same-sex marriage and how these perceptions in turn challenge normativity in the LGBT and black racial communities as well as affect their understandings of group membership, identity, marriage, and family formation.