Social Work Faculty Support for Same-Sex Marriage: A Cross-National Study of U.S. and Anglophone Canadian MSW Teaching Faculty

Article excerpt

Attention to same-sex marriage has increased in the past decade. This study examines the perceptions of same-sex marriage among social work faculty. Faculty play a critical role in preparing future social workers for competent, ethical practice--including advocacy for social policies inclusive of sexual minorities. The present study investigates endorsement of same-sex marriage among teaching faculty in U.S. and English-speaking Canadian MSW programs. Twelve factors were found to be significant in the bivariate analyses; however, only four retained significance in the multivariate analysis. Specifically, the multivariate analysis found "other race" and religiosity to be negatively associated with support for same-sex marriage, whereas acceptance of same-sex relationships and understanding gender-based oppression as the root cause of domestic and sexual violence were positively associated with same-sex marriage support. The results highlight the importance of social attitudes concerning same-sex relationships and gender-based oppression for endorsement of same-sex marriage. Implications for social work education and future research are discussed.

KEY WORDS: gay and lesbian people; heterosexism; same-sex marriage; social work faculty

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Same-sex marriage is a controversial policy issue around the world. Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in 11 countries, nine U.S. states, and the District of Columbia. Given the legal and social significance that marriage holds in society, the issue of same-sex marriage raises many social justice and human fights questions for same-sex couples and the social work profession (Fredriksen-Goldsen, Hyun-Jun, Murraco, & Mincer, 2009; Woodford, 2010).

Social workers have an ethical responsibility to advocate for social justice for sexual minorities (Canadian Association of Social Workers [CASW], 2005; NASW, 2000). Moreover, social work program educational accreditation standards mandate inclusion of content regarding sexual minorities and oppression related to sexuality (Canadian Association of Schools of Social Work, 2007; Council on Social Work Education [CASWE] Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered Caucus, 2008). However, recent research in the United States demonstrates that content on sexual orientation (and gender identity and expression) needs to be more comprehensively integrated into social work curriculums (Martin et al., 2009). Similar conclusions have been drawn in Canada (CASWE Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered Caucus, 2008).

Researchers have devoted attention to social workers' (Berkman & Zinberg, 1997; Crisp, 2006; Green, 2005; Krieglstein, 2003), social work students' (Brownlee et al., 2005; Logie, Bridge, & Bridge, 2007), and social work educators' (Ben-Ari, 2001; Fredriksen-Goldsen, Woodford, Luke, & Gutierrez, 2011) attitudes toward homosexuality. However, minimal attention has been given to attitudes about same-sex marriage.

Both CASW (Newman, Brotman, Ryan, & OASW, 2003) and NASW (Webb, n.d.) publicly support same-sex marriage. Although endorsement of same-sex marriage by these organizations is important in advancing same-sex couples' access to marriage, support for same-sex marriage among social work faculty is likely more important, as faculty play a central role in preparing students for competent and ethical practice--including advocacy for and with same-sex couples. Faculty who oppose or are unsure about same-sex marriage may avoid the topic in their courses, thereby negatively affecting students' preparedness to advocate for inclusive marriage policies and related social policies. Furthermore, faculty who oppose same-sex marriage may minimize its importance or advocate to students that marriage remain a heterosexual institution. Also, anti-gay marriage views among faculty may foster an unwelcoming, "chilly" learning environment for sexual-minority students. Given the role faculty play in developing students' professional values, knowledge, and skills, it is important to understand faculty's views about same-sex marriage. …