Following last night’s Prime Time on RTE (you can watch it here until April 25th), which discussed same-sex marriage, I decided to take a look at what the Iona Institute have to say about marriage. For those of you who haven’t heard of the group before, “The Iona Institute promotes the place of marriage and religion in society. We defend the continued existence of publicly-funded denominational schools. We also promote freedom of conscience and religion.” It is headed by Irish Independent columnist David Quinn.

On the Iona website I navigated to a section called ‘Marriage and the Family’ and there I found a document that was published prior to the Children’s Referendum last year. The document is called ‘Child Abuse by Family Structure’ and, considering child abuse is a serious issue, I decided that it was as good a place as any to start.

The document states that a child in a family structure with married, biological parents experiences less abuse of various forms than other family situations (unmarried parents, single parents, single parents living with a partner, and so on), and the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4) Report to Congress is quoted as its source.

Everything appeared to be mostly in order. Except, things are not quite as straightforward as Iona would make them out to be. Firstly, the group has used an American report, and applied its findings to Ireland. Thankfully, much more research than the NIS-4 report has been undertaken across several countries, and it looks like the reality of same-sex parenting is rather different to the image that the Iona Institute wish to put across.

While the Iona document (and the NIS-4) suggests that unmarried parents, adoptive parents, single parents abuse children more, I want to address the implication that gay parents are more abusive than their straight, married, and biological counterparts are.

In 2010 Nanette, Bos, and Goldberg published results relating to the relationships between adolescents and their lesbian parents, as part of the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS):

A key finding in the current study was that none of the NLLFS adolescents reported physical or sexual abuse by a parent or other caregiver. This finding contradicts the notion, offered in opposition to parenting by gay and lesbian people, that same-sex parents are likely to abuse their offspring sexually.

It turns out that the capability of gay people to be parents and its effect on their children is actually well-studied. A host of scientific research undertaken in Canada, the USA, and Australia has shown that same-sex couples are no less able to care for children that opposite-sex couples. In American PsychologyHerek (2006) states:

If gay, lesbian, or bisexual parents were inherently less capable than otherwise comparable heterosexual parents, their children would evidence problems regardless of the type of sample. This pattern clearly has not been observed. […] the burden of empirical proof is on those who argue that the children of sexual minority parents fare worse than the children of heterosexual parents.

Going back to the Iona Institutes document on child abuse for a moment, the second page states in big red writing that “By far and away the safest place for a child is in a home raised by their married, biological parents. Therefore, we should promote marriage for the sake of children.”

I will assume, then, that the Iona Institute is also against parentless children being adopted by a loving adult or couple who will take care of them. I will also assume that Iona feels that to stop extant child abuse occurring in the home at the hand of anyone who isn’t a straight, married, biological parent, the abuser(s) should just get married.

I will have to read through Iona’s other literature on marriage to find out what else they say, but certainly in the case of child abuse and gay parenting, they are presenting misinformation and flawed research in a (maybe not so) subtle attempt to undermine the concept of same-sex marriage and show it in a bad light.

Same-sex marriage in Ireland is a growing discussion (not one that needs to be had, if you ask me; two adults in love should be able to marry, regardless of gender or sexual orientation) and one in which ridiculous and uninformed claims will be made. It’s important to be able to separate the real issues from the nonsense, and to recognise that some groups opposing same-sex marriage will do so quite possibly for different motives than they appear to say.