Iona Institute: Their Own Worst Enemy?

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David Gormley notices how the Catholic group’s grounds against same-sex marriage are quickly crumbling from underneath them.

Last Friday, Senator David Norris took to the floor of the Seanad andclaimed that the Iona Institute had deliberately misled the Constitutional Convention in its submission opposing same-sex marriage. Iona cited a study from 2002 by Child Trends, an American NGO, which found that children raised by their biological parents in low-conflict marriages generally have the best outcomes. However, Iona neglected to mention that the study in question did not test for adoptive or same-sex parents at all. The authors of the study make this clear in the disclaimer they have attached to the first page of the research paper in which they unequivocally say that “no conclusions can be drawn from this research about the well-being of children raised by adoptive or same-sex couples.”

Carol Emig, the president of Child Trends, even wrote to the Constitutional Convention to express her wish that their study would not be misconstrued to advance either side in the up-coming debate. Ms Emig also recently told the Washington Blade that she is dismayed that Child Trends research is consistently mischaracterised by opponents of same-sex marriage.

It’s obvious, then, that Child Trends has made it clear in no uncertain terms that their study is not to be used to oppose same-sex marriage. Apparently, however, that’s still not clear enough for David Quinn, the president of the Iona Institute, and the figurehead of opposition to marriage equality in Ireland. Aware that he had some explaining to do, Mr Quinn attempted to backtrack in a post on Iona’s blog on Saturday, but continued to defend his organisation’s quoting of the study, authors be damned! Interestingly, however, he concedes that he knows nothing about outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents (because, it’s claimed, conclusive data is not yet available), only that marriage under the status quo “is the most beneficial family form that we know of from the point of view of children.” This is a qualification that Mr Quinn has so far been able to evade, but this controversy has forced him to accept it explicitly, in order to save face. In doing so, he reveals that the arguments against same-sex marriage are a complete mess.

In that same post, Mr Quinn goes on to say, essentially, that in quoting the research from Child Trends, Iona were not arguing against same-sex marriage, rather they were arguing in favour of the status quo. But the debate, of course, is not about whether marriage as it currently exists is beneficial to children. Same-sex parents are demanding access to civil marriage precisely for this reason. It is up to opponents, therefore, to prove that the benefits to children that flow from having two married parents are somehow dependent on the exclusion of same-sex couples from this institution.

Unfortunately for social conservatives like Mr Quinn, the notion that the mere existence of married same-sex couples hinders heterosexual marriage is a causal link-free zone. There is simply no plausible reason to believe that the incentives for heterosexuals to raise children within the bonds of marriage would be rendered inoperative if same-sex couples can also get married.

Is it the case that same-sex couples should be excluded from marriage because children raised by same-sex couples do worse in general? That argument doesn’t make sense either, given Mr Quinn’s acknowledgment that there is currently no way of knowing how same-sex parents fare compared to other kinds of parents. Moreover, he has accepted the reality that same-sex couples are raising children, and will continue to do so. His argument can’t, therefore, be that prohibiting same-sex couples from marriage prevents them from raising children. In any case, the claim that marriage is exclusively for child-rearing has not been credible since the introduction of widely available contraception.

This sorry collection of confused nonsense, which Mr Quinn tries to pass off as some kind of argument, belies the increasingly desperate and risky tactics employed by opponents of same-sex marriage in the face of overwhelming public support for equality. In flailing about for anything that might stick, Mr Quinn has shifted to focusing on biological parents as the ideal, rather than just heterosexual parents. This puts him in the awkward position of implying that adoptive heterosexual parents are, by default, somehow defective.

The Iona Institute must have known that the authors of the study they were citing in their convention submission had explicitly warned against its use in the debate on same-sex marriage. Yet they risked including it anyway, hoping no one would notice.  In the US, the Religious Right has had such a hard time gathering evidence against same-sex parents that social conservatives there resorted to commissioning a fradulent study which has now been thoroughly debunked.

Furthermore, Mr Quinn’s claim that the data isn’t in on same-sex parents ignores professional organisations like the American Psychological Association, the Canadian Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others. Those organisations have completed their own investigations, and have all concluded that same-sex parents are no better or worse than heterosexual parents. These studies, however, are rejected by groups like Iona, who use one excuse or another – the methodology is wrong or that the sample size is too small, or the researchers are biased. It seems that same-sex parents must be subjected to an almost impossible level of scrutiny that, conveniently, would take decades to conduct.

In the meantime, they are intent on ensuring that same-sex parents face considerable legal difficulties in raising their children. Social conservatives argue that marriage provides the kind of stability in which the rearing of children prospers, and then seek to deny same-sex parents access to it.

It must be concluded that there is absolutely nothing that would ever convince people like David Quinn that same-sex couples should be granted the protections of marriage. In working backwards from the conclusion that same-sex couples make for bad parents, and desperately scrambling for anything that might lend credence to that presupposition, opponents are left with nothing but  incomplete arguments that will surely be exposed as such in the run-up to the inevitable referendum.

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