The Iona Institute is an Irish conservative Catholic think-tank which is against same-sex marriage. In December 2012 they released a video which defends what they call traditional views of marriage. In January 2013 two students writing for the Trinity’s University Times criticised the video in scathing terms. One of the articles went as far as calling the Iona Institute a bigoted hate group. David Quinn, founder of the Iona Institute, felt personally defamed by this and other comments made in the articles and threatened legal action; after which the paper issued an apology to Mr Quinn and removed the articles from their site. However, the articles were cached and can still be view: Queerly Beloved and What Lies Behind the Facade.
Is the Iona Institute a bigoted hate group? One aspect of this claim can be immediately dismissed. I don’t believe it to be a hate group. I, and many other same-sex marriage advocates, are certainly not fond of the Iona Institute but to label them a hate group is a stretch too far. It would disingenuous and hyperbolic to apply this label as they do not practice open hostility or violence towards homosexuals. However, what about bigoted? Bigotry is the intolerant treatment of a group based on gender, sex, race, sexual orientation, nationality, language, or social status. So to prove the Iona Institute is bigoted, it must be shown that they have shown intolerant treatment toward homosexuals solely based on their sexual orientation. This can be shown by examining their opposition to same-sex marriage. Of course, opposition to same-sex marriage isn’t inherently bigoted; however, the opposition must be based on factors other than sexual orientation, and these factors must be evidenced and based on reality.
Ireland has an upcoming Constitutional Convention where issues such as same-sex marriage shall be discussed. Prior to the Convention the government has asked for submissions from the public and advocacy groups to proffer their opinions on these matters. The Iona Institute submitted an article which details their opposition to same-sex marriage. The points raised against same-sex marriage in this article shall be analysed to see if the Iona Institute’s disapproval is grounded on any factors other than sexual orientation. The article begins,
This submission sets out why we believe the constitutional provision on marriage should not be changed.
– We argue that the institution of marriage is mainly child-centred, not adult-centred and that the debate about marriage should centre on the interests of children, not adults.
– We argue that the marriage of a man and a woman is uniquely pro-child and therefore it is not discrimination or a breach of the principle of equality to give it unique treatment.
– We show that demands for same-sex marriage inevitably cause us to lose sight of the ideal of having a loving mother and father and of the importance of the natural ties between parent and child. This would be a very great loss and is the chief harm redefining marriage would cause.
– We show the immense implications of same-sex marriage for freedom of religion, a second harmful effect of the redefinition.
– We argue that the rights of gay people and their children, and that of other families as well, can easily be secured without changing the definition of marriage.
The Iona Institute’s opposition seems to primarily rely on the relationship between marriage and children. The article continues,
The social sciences confirm what every known society in the world has known instinctively, namely that marriage between a man and a woman is uniquely beneficial to society and to children. This is the case even though some individual marriages may be dysfunctional and harmful to children (as can any other type of family).
One of the most important child research organisations in the United States is Child Trends, which is centrist in its politics and ideological outlook.
It produced a paper in 2002 called ‘Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children and What Can We Do About It?’
This summarises what the social sciences have to say about the matter.
The summary is as follows: “Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage…There is thus value in promoting strong, stable marriage between biological parents.”
A great deal of additional material is available that attests to this fact.
Note the various elements in the above summary. There are two parents. The parents are the biological parents, that is, the mother and the father. They are married.
I decided to take a look at this research paper the Iona Institute references, and I was struck by what it said on its very first page in big blue bold writing.
Note: This Child Trends brief summarizes research conducted in 2002, when neither same-sex parents nor adoptive parents were identified in large national surveys. Therefore, no conclusions can be drawn from this research about the well-being of children raised by same-sex parents or adoptive parents.
How did the Iona Institute miss that? It is on the first page before anything else. Further reading also sheds light on what the paper means when it says “biological parents”. It is a contrastive term as the study is comparing the well-being of children with different parent types, namely children of single parents and children with one step-parent. So when the paper refers to two parents, it is in contrast to a single parent, and when it mentions biological parents it is comparison to a step-parent. The paper has nothing to do with same-sex or adoptive parents, anybody who would have read the article in full would have realised this. However, if it somehow wasn’t clear, the note stating as much is embossed on the very first page. In addition, this paper does not summarise “what social sciences have to say about the matter”, nor does “a great deal of additional information attests to this fact”. In truth, every research paper which has studied the well-being of children in same-sex relations has come to the same conclusion: there is no differences in the well-being between children of same-sex couples and children of heterosexual couples.
Family Functioning in Lesbian Families Created by Donor Insemination
Katrien Vanfraussen, Ingrid Ponjaert-Kristoffersen, Anne Brewaeys
This study compared the relationship between parent and child in heterosexual and lesbian families in the following categories: parent participation in child activities, general conversations between parent and child, emotional issues, affection, quarrels/disputes, and authority. This study found virtually no differences in how parents and children in each group perceived the quality of their relationships with one another. One of the differences between the two types of families was that the biological and non-biological mothers in the lesbian families shared parental responsibilities for their child more equally than in heterosexual families.
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 0002-9432, January 1, 2003, Vol. 73, Issue 1
Psychosocial Adjustment among Children Conceived via Donor Insemination by Lesbian and Heterosexual Mothers
Raymond W. Chan, Barbara Raboy, and Charlotte Patterson
This study found that the sexual orientation and relationship status of parents had no significant impact on the psychological well being of their children. Rather, children were impacted by other factors, such as parents’ psychological well being and parenting stress—neither of which had anything to do with sexual orientation.
1998 (April). Child Development, Vol. 69, No. 2, pages 443-457.
Donor Insemination: Child Development and Family Functioning in Lesbian Mother Families
A. Brewaeys, I. Ponjaert, E.V. Van Hall, and S. Golombok
This study found that children in lesbian mother homes were as positive and healthy as children in homes headed by a mother and a father. Researchers compared children of lesbian couples conceived via donor insemination, children of heterosexual couples conceived via donor insemination, and children of heterosexual couples who conceived conventionally. Overall, lesbian non-biological mothers were found to have better relationships with their children than the heterosexual fathers. No differences were found between the three groups of children.
1997. Human Reproduction, Vol. 12, No. 6, pp. 1349-1359.
That is just to name three, a more comprehensive list can be found here. So why does the Iona Institute feel the need to ignore all the research which shows that children of same-sex couples experience the same quality of life as those of heterosexuals? Why did the Iona Institute take a quote out of context, misrepresent the researcher’s intent, and skew the findings into something negative about same-sex parents?
Iona’s article then moves on to claim that the institution of marriage is not adult-centred but child-centred. This is quite a bold and arrogant statement. Given marriage’s ever changing nature, to define it in such narrow terms is a complete fabrication. Marriage is an organic institution, it has been changing continuously since it earliest days when it was a property contract between the father of the woman and her husband. It has progressed since then and has continued to alter. Nobody owns marriage, it is a social institution which should be available to all people who can centre whatever aspect of their marriage they wish. If somebody wishes to have a child-centred marriage then that is their prerogative; however, if somebody wishes to have a love-centred marriage then they have the freedom to do so, nobody has the right to tell them what type of marriage they should have. Not to mention the fact same-sex couples are perfectly capable of enjoying a child-centred marriage as the research above indicates. If the vast majority decide to have child-centred marriages, it does not mean the remainder of married couples must follow suit. That is the great thing about individuality, despite what the rest of society does, we have the liberty to make our own decisions.
The article next asks a question, “it is better to have two loving parents, or your own loving mother and father?”
Advocates for same-sex marriage either depict marriage in an adult-centred as distinct from a child-centred way, or else they claim that having loving parents is just the same as having your own loving mother and father.
It is important that we understand just how radical this […] claim in particular is.
If we say that having loving parents is just the same as having your own loving mother and father then we are saying two things. The first is that the natural ties between parents and their own biological children are of no real consequence.
This is a remarkable assertion. We know that many adopted children seek out their natural parents in later life.
We also know that many children who are conceived through egg or sperm donation, or both also seek out their natural parents in later life.
Finally, and referring back to the research quoted by Child Trends, it is the family consisting of two married, biological parents, that generally provides the best outcomes for children.
The second claim is that the sex of the parents is of no importance. This, of course, is a denial of sexual complementarity, a denial that there are any real differences between mothers and fathers and that there is any value from a child’s point of view in being raised by a loving mother and father, let alone their own.
The logic here simply does not follow. Let’s assume for a second that the claims being made here are true (they aren’t). Opposing same-sex marriage for these reasons has no bearing on reality. Does barring same-sex couples from marriage actually change anything in this regard? Will more children be born to heterosexual couples by denying homosexuals equal marriage rights? Will homosexuals decide not to have children simply because they are not allowed to marry? The simple fact is, the same number of children will be born and raised by homosexual and heterosexual couples whether same-sex couples are allowed to marry or not. This makes opposition to same-sex marriage on these grounds null and void.
The article then discusses the consequences for freedom of religion, claiming there have been numerous infringements upon this freedom due to the introduction of same-sex marriages: adoption agencies had to close as they did not believe in same-sex adoption, civil registrars can get fired for refusing to officiate same-sex ceremonies, churches may be forced to perform same-sex weddings. By allowing same-sex couples to marry, the state has granted homosexuals a civil right. If people are allowed to deny these civil rights due to religious reasons then it means religious freedoms trump civil rights. Is the Iona Institute willing to apply this logic elsewhere? Should Mormons be allowed to refuse service to black people as their religion says black people are cursed? Surely forcing a Mormon to treat a black person as an equal is an infringement upon his religious freedom. What about a Muslim who doesn’t wish to serve women who is by herself. It is his religious right to be allowed to treat women as inferior; forcing him to treat women as equals also has consequences for his religious freedom.
So, is the Iona Institution’s opposition to same-sex marriage based on factors other than sexual orientation, and are these factors evidenced and based on reality? The short answer is no.
- The Iona Institute quote-mined a research paper and intentionally misrepresented its findings to make a false statement about the parenting capabilities of same-sex couples. It ignored all research which shows there is no difference between the well-being of children of same-sex couples and children of heterosexual couples. They skewed research in such a manner to make a false negative claim about a group of people solely based on their sexual orientation – this is bigotry.
- The Iona Institute defines marriage in its own narrow terms which suit their preferred version of marriage while denigrating other types of marriage. To protest same-sex marriage as it does not fit their perception of marriage is intolerant of other people’s perception – this is bigotry.
- The Iona Institute claims that it is better to have a loving mother and a father rather than two loving parents. Again research shows this to be untrue and such claims have no bearing on the reality of same-sex marriage: children shall be born to same-sex couples regardless. This shows that the opposition is being levied against the sexual orientation and not the consequences of same-sex marriage – this is bigotry.
- The Iona Institute claims that same-sex marriage will have consequences for religious freedom. The Iona Institute wants to prioritise their religious beliefs ahead of the civil rights of homosexuals. Yet the Iona Institute will not apply the same logic to other religions and other minority groups. They want this logic to apply solely to homosexuals and nobody else – this is bigotry.
Given this evidence, it can be comfortably said that the Iona Institute is indeed a bigoted group.