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Psycho-social Factors as Correlates of Attitude of Undergraduate Students Towards Same-Sex Marriage

Dr. S. A. Oluwatosin

Mercy Abiola Oke

Department of Educational Foundations and Counselling, Faculty of Education, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria


This study provides empirical findings on determinants of sexual orientation identity of undergraduate students in Osun State. It further determined the willingness of students to seek counseling help for adjustment on their sexual orientation. The study adopted descriptive survey where 1487 students from three universities were selected using multi-stage sampling techniques; data collected were analysed using both descriptive and inferential statistics. Results indicated that 93.6% were heterosexual; 3.7% were bisexual while 3.1% were homosexuals; there was a significant relationship between undergraduate sexual orientation identity and attitude of undergraduate students towards same-sex marriage (χ2=17.3, p<0.05). Results further revealed that 15.7 percent of the students had a positive attitude towards same-sex marriage. There was a significant relationship between self-esteem and attitude of undergraduate students towards same-sex marriage. It also revealed that parenting style (χ2=3.07, p<0.05), family types (χ2=15.4, p<0.05) fraternal birth order (χ2=33.2, p<0.05) and attitude of undergraduate students towards same-sex marriage; except peer influence (χ2=2.19, p>0.05) have no significant relationship. The results further revealed that people with homosexuals, sexual orientations prefer help through psychotherapy (36.8%), spiritual approaches (60.0%), counseling (37.9%) and personal determination (8.4%). In conclusion, most of the students maintain a heterosexual relationship while few engage in homosexual, bisexual relationship and that spiritual approaches could be way out for those that identified themselves as being homosexual or bisexual.


Marriage is one of the most ancient, important, universal and indispensable social institutions which has been in existence since the inception of human civilization. In the original sense, marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Marriage permits the institutionalized form of sexual relationship. It is closely associated with the institution of men family and the women family. Marriage is a stable social institution that binds two people of opposite sex and allows them to live as husband and wife which confers on them social legitimation to have a sexual relationship and have children. Marriage is designed to satisfy the biological needs especially the sexual needs of the individual in a legal, customary, culturally and social environment.

Marriage may have the following characteristics which include: the Permanent bond between husband and wife, fulfillment of social, psychological, biological and religious aims, the establishment of family and provision of facilities for the procreation and upbringing of children. Thus, marriage creates mutual obligations between husband and wife and couple fulfill their mutual obligations on the basis of customs or rules. It regulates sex relationship according to prescribed customs and laws (Piya, 2016).

In Nigeria, before civilization, traditional marriage has been the existing type of marriage. Though traditional marriage varies from culture to culture in Nigeria, different tribes have their own way of establishing marriage. Traditional marriage in Nigeria involves four main parts which include (i) introduction (ii) family requirement (iii) taking a date and (iv) bride price payment and handing over of the bride. Findings revealed that traditional marriage is celebrated in almost the same way in different parts of Nigeria. The only noticeable difference is the amount of money spent, and the list of marriage requirements given (Abass, 2014). Due to civilization, western culture has had a greater influence on our culture, mode of dressing, eating pattern and also marriage. In this contemporary world, there are different types of marriage which include: monogamous marriage, serial marriage, plural marriage, forced marriage, child marriage, the same-sex marriage which is the focus of this study.

Same-sex marriage, also called gay marriage, is the union of two individuals of the same sex in a marital relationship, with the full legal rights and responsibilities allotted to this contract in a given jurisdiction. A gay is a homosexual person especially a man sexually attracted to a person of the same sex and not to person of the opposite sex while a lesbian is a homosexual person especially a woman sexually attracted to persons of the same sex and not to the person of the opposite sex. What the recognition of same-sex marriage seems to be is a political and social issue, and also a religious issue in many countries, and debates continue to arise over whether people in same-sex relationships should be allowed marriage or similar status as heterosexual couples. Various faith communities around the world support allowing those of the same sex to marry, while many major religions opposes same-sex marriage (Obidimma & Obidimma, 2013). Opponents (heterosexuals) of same-sex marriages have argued that recognition of same-sex marriages would erode religious freedoms, undermine a right of children to be raised by their biological mother and father or erode the institution of marriage itself. Though same-sex marriage has not been legalized in Nigeria, it is not impossible that people practicing it, people who are practicing it may because of rejection and discrimination remain silent. Thus, knowing the perception and attitude of young undergraduate may inform the possibility of its practices.

Some psychologists view homosexuality in terms of pathological models as a mental illness. This classification has to be tested in research, but no research has to produce any strong empirical evidence regarding homosexuality as a disorder. Since the 1970s, the consensus of the behavioral and social sciences and the health and mental health professions globally is that homosexuality is a healthy variation of human sexual orientation, although some profession maintains that it is a disorder. Current attitudes of people involved in homosexuality have their roots in religious, legal and cultural underpinnings. Homosexuality is punishable by law, and even death but people have become more interested in discovering the causes of homosexuality. Thus, Medicine and Psychiatry have started competing with law and religion for jurisdiction (American Psychological Association, 2013).

In Nigeria, neither same-sex marriages nor same-sex couples are recognized. Homosexuality can land a man up to 14 years in prison in Southern Nigeria and capital punishment for men in areas under Sharia Islamic Law. Also, persons witnessing, officiating or supporting gay acts or weddings can be charged to court in Nigeria (Adebanjo, 2014). One may see same-sex marriage as illogical and unreasonable as it seems. This is the issue of concern in this study. Could it be that some psycho-social factors such as self-esteem, sexual orientation identity or family type, parenting styles, peers group influence, fraternal birth order are responsible for its occurrences or practices (same-sex marriage)?

Self-esteem refers to the evaluative and affective aspects of the self, and this has to do with how "good" or "bad" we feel about ourselves. Self-esteem is the opinion you hold about yourself. High self-esteem is the good opinion of yourself, and low esteem is a bad opinion of yourself. It is generally believed that self-esteem can influence how an individual thinks, feels and behaves; high self-esteem is most relevant to one's psychological well-being, and low self-esteem is most important to one's behaviour, that is, the way we behave in the society, the way we see things or the way we perceive things (Erkut, 2006). The question now is: does self-esteem influence the attitude of undergraduate students towards same-sex marriage? One may speculate that a male with high self-esteem might be feeling shy to form a heterosexual relationship and prefer to relate with his peer of same-sex; could this, therefore, lead to such romantic relationship? This is one of the concerns of this study.

Sexual identity is how one thinks of oneself in terms of whom one is romantically or sexually attracted. Sexual orientation identity is when people identify or dis-identify with sexual orientation or choose not to identify with sexual orientation. Sexual orientation refers to romantic or sexual attractions toward persons of the opposite sex or gender (heterosexual), the same sex or gender (homosexual), to both sexes or more than one gender (bisexual), or to no one (asexual). For example, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people may not openly identify as such in a homophobic/heterosexist setting or in areas where the record on Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) rights is poor. A person who has homosexual feelings can self-identify in various ways. An individual may come to accept an LGBT identity to develop a heterosexual identity, to reject an LGBT identity while choosing to identify as ex-gay or to refrain from specifying a sexual identity (American Psychological Association, 2009). The question now is, does sexual orientation identity have an influence on the attitude of undergraduate students towards same-sex marriage? It is often reported by Gay that it is their natural makeup and not their choice. If it is natural, then it may have an influence on the choice of sexual partner. But this has to be verified.

Peer relationships may either positively or negatively influence lives of adolescents. Adolescents choose friends who have characteristics or talents that they admire, which motivates them to achieve and act like their friends' act. Peers can also influence their peers in the way they talk, walk, eat, and through social behavior, interaction styles, having good grades in school and so on. This sexual behavior which peers can influence their peers to engage in is of three types. It includes descriptive norms, injunctive norms, and outright peer pressure. Descriptive norms and injunctive norms are both observed behaviors. Descriptive norms explain peers sexual behavior and injunctive norms describe peers attitude towards those behavior (e. g. approval and disapproval) while peer pressure is described as direct encouragement or pressure by a person's peers to engage in sexual behavior (Veed, 2009). It can be observed that peers can influence their peers either in a positive way or negative way. Is it possible for peers to be susceptible to their fellow peers because they share the same social interaction, behavior, interest? All these are questions that the research sought to provide answers to.

The fraternal birth order is another variable which is considered in this study. The fraternal birth order is a unique relationship between older brothers and male sexual orientation. Studies have shown that there is a unique relationship between older brothers and homosexuality in males (gay) ((Bogaert, 2011). Homosexual males tend to have a significant majority of older brothers. It has been empirically examined even though it has not been concluded yet, that homosexuality is most common among third born males of the family. In a study conducted by Bogaert (2011), the association between male sexual orientation and biological siblings (that is born from the same mother) and non-biological siblings (that is adoptive, step, or paternal half-siblings) was examined whether and how long pro-bands were reared with these siblings was also considered. Biologically older brothers significantly predicted male sexual orientation regardless of whether or how long pro-bands were reared with these brothers (Bogaert, 2011). However, these studies were domiciled in the Western world but what the situation may seem in Nigeria needs to be examined.

Other factors to be considered which may influence the attitude of undergraduate students towards same-sex marriage are the family type and parenting style. The family is the number one agents of socialization, and it plays an integral role in children's development. Children's growing competences and development are largely influenced by family life and family relationships. Children well-being continues to depend on the quality of family interactions. Children of today are growing up in a variety of households and different family systems. A number of these different families include: only child families, large families, single-parent families, single, divorced parent families, never married single parent families, blended families, gay and lesbian parent families, adoptive parent families, and grandparent reared families. All of the above-listed family types have greater value in influencing adults in their way of life. For instance, in gay and lesbian families, it is of great concern that their children will be stigmatized by their parents' sexual orientation. So also do parents play a large role in fostering their children's growth and development. Parents may differ in how they try to control or socialize their children and the extent to which they do so. Parents develop various styles of interacting with their children. Some parents are authoritarian, authoritative and permissive while some are uninvolved in relating to their children at home. Each of the above-listed styles has a greater influence on how the child will relate in the community. The question is, does the family type influence the attitude of adults towards same-sex marriage, to what extent does the family influence the attitude of their children? All these questions are what the study seeks sought to provide answers to. Berk (2000) has identified four parenting styles; authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved, each of which influences how the child develops. The way parents handle their children may determine their sexual orientation, for instance, a child brought up by a gay and lesbian parents does not make the child homosexual.

Same-sex marriage has been regarded as a behavior which is influenced by a number of factors: a disrupted family, life in early years, a lack of unconditional love on the part of either parent, failure to identify with the same-sex parent. The problem can later result in search of love and acceptance, the envy of the same or the opposite sex, a life control of fears and feelings of isolation. It is unclear that the causes may be linked to fear of opposite sex, incest, or molestation, dominant mothers, and weak fathers, demonic oppression, etc. The research, therefore, intends to investigate the psycho-socio factors of the attitude of undergraduate's students towards same-sex marriage in Osun State.

Same-sex marriage has perceived as an aberration in Nigeria. In the wake of globalization and information sharing, youths are becoming more exposed to the western culture, especially in universities where students may be engaging in all sorts of sexual practices. One is not very sure of undergraduate students' disposition towards same-sex marriage, what could determine their attitude towards it and the willingness for counseling. There is a need, therefore, to seek to investigate the relationship between psycho-social factors such as sexual orientation identity, self-esteem, parenting styles, fraternal birth order, family types, peers influence which in literature have not been adequately explored in relation to the attitude of undergraduate students towards same-sex marriage. This investigation is necessary because adolescents and youth get attracted to new things or culture without considering the consequences. Nigerian law and culture are against same-sex marriage. If the youths are involving in it, it becomes a problem and conflict.

With increasing urbanization in Nigeria and relative freedom from parents and guardians enjoyed by students in various institutions of higher learning in Nigeria, there have been different kinds of sexual orientation which include homosexuality and attitudes towards it.

Same-sex marriage in Nigeria is highly frowned at also because it is believed to have a negative effect on the general behavior of people and it is strongly against the moral principle of Nigerian society. Though this act of homosexuality may exist in closed and private settings in the Universities, yet there is no empirical evidence to show that it exists among undergraduates’ in Osun State. This is, therefore, one reason to investigate its prevalence and the attitude towards it. On the part of the homosexuals, most often they may suffer psychosocial trauma, social isolation as the society widely regarding the attitude as a deviant behavior while they are sometimes being regarded and treated as criminals. In future, they may face the danger of childlessness except if they change and get married to opposite-sex or adopt a child. It is a violation of the natural use of man and woman. If people who engage in this practice have these challenges, what should be done? Do they seek help?

Furthermore, the attitude of people towards the acts may cause those involved in the act is unable to socially and psychologically adjust within the society and relate to people and members of the society. It is on the above premise that this study seeks to unravel the attitude of undergraduate students towards same-sex marriage and its counseling effects.

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