American support for same-sex marriage continues to rise, yet a recent study conducted by Binghamton University professors shows that prejudice against gay and lesbian parents persists.

For one reason or another, heterosexual students judge the parenting skills of same-sex couples more harshly.

The study, conducted by professors Sean Massey and Ann Merriwether, used BU undergraduates as participants, asking them to rate the quality of the parenting in a randomly assigned story about two parents eating dinner in a restaurant with their 4-year-old son.

Half of the participants read a story with same-sex parents, while the other half read one with heterosexual parents. The stories were divided into cases where the parents engaged in positive parenting and couples engaged in negative parenting. After reading one of the two stories, participants were then asked to rate the quality of the parenting.

Participants saw the same-sex couples as less capable of successful parenting than the heterosexual couples. According to the study, participants believed that, compared to heterosexual parents, gay and lesbian parents were less responsible, emotionally stable, competent, sensitive and nurturing.

In addition, the study found that participants with strong anti-homosexual prejudice were more likely to to believe that same-sex parenting produces negative outcomes.

Massey, a research associate professor for the department of women, gender and sexuality studies, even admitted to feeling anxious about parenting in public.

“Although many forms of overt prejudice seem to be on the decline, they haven’t actually disappeared altogether,” he said. “Instead they have gone ‘underground’ and are being expressed more subtly in ways that allow the expression of a negative judgment without appearing prejudiced.”

Merriwether, a professor of psychology, said the results of the study, which were published in the Journal of GLBT Family Studies, are an important step toward understanding modern-day prejudice.

“It shows prejudice towards gay and lesbian parents is still alive and well,“ she said.

However, the American perception of anti-gay prejudice seems to be changing.

“It appears that public attitudes toward homosexuality and same-sex parenting are improving,” Massey said. “Or, at least, the desire to appear non-prejudiced is increasing.”

Massey found it concerning that the decision-making process of the child welfare system, family court and court appointed special advocate workers for children may be affected by the judgment of outside parties, possibly encumbering the ability of some same-sex couples to create a family.

“As long as same-sex parents are perfect parents, we are judged equally,” Massey said. “But if we mess up, if we are less than ideal parents, the double standard kicks in and some will judge us more harshly that our heterosexual peers.”

Massey and Merriwether collaborated with Justin Garcia of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University as part of the Interdisciplinary Research Group for the Study of Sexuality.