If you were listening to Marian Finucane on RTE Radio One over the weekend you may have heard her chatting with with Breda O’Brien, patron of the lobby group the Iona Institute (a business name for Lolek Ltd). During the interview she stated that the Iona Institute is not a Catholic group. My eyebrow was certainly raised at this, and it echoes what her fellow Iona patron, Patricia Casey said to Matt Cooper on Today FM early last year:

Casey: “We’re not a Catholic institute.”
Cooper: “Alright. A Christian institution?”
Casey: “No. We’re not. We support the role of religion in society but we’re not a religiously based organisation.”

You only need to go as far as Iona’s website to see the tagline in the heading, For Religion and Society, and their four (possibly four; O’Brien seemed a little unsure when speaking to Finucane) patrons are all Catholic.

This probably gives you a bit of a taster into the odd, topsy-turvy logic and confusion the Iona Institute put forth on a regular basis. You’d previously have been excused for not knowing much about Iona, but if you’re reading this you’re probably aware at this stage of the whole Pantigate craic that’s been going on of the last while.

Breda O’Brien and pals from Lolek Ltd are on full defence after being called out as homophobic and espousing their stance that LGBT people should be treated differently to heterosexual people. They are now acting like victims in saying that they’re being prevented from speaking and that debate is being shut down, yet so far I haven’t seen much of the opinion that they should not be allowed speak about their views: they seem to have declared this prohibition on themselves.

Over the last month or so many people have spoken out about different forms of homophobia and their own experiences. It has become much clearer to me that there is an entire spectrum of homophobic actions, ranging from “gay jokes” in the playground to people being murdered for their sexuality. This is where the problem lies with the Iona Institute. Breda O’Brien is conflating two ends of the spectrum when she says that homophobia “is often associated with hostility and sometimes with violence”.

You’d think someone actually said she goes around beating up gays. Nobody has done any such thing. But O’Brien and the rest of the Iona Institute have come up with this red herring, claiming that they’re being silenced, that if they talk about their beliefs and voice their opinions they’re being equated to violent individuals and groups who physically assault – and sometimes kill – LGBT people. This is absolutely ridiculous.

At this point I do have to say that I’m using the ‘spectrum’ idea as an illustration. I’m a straight man, and I haven’t been on the receiving end of homophobia. If I were to compare one instance of being called “fucking fag!” with one instance of getting the shit kicked out of me, I’d rather take the verbal lashing. But what if my only homophobic experience was a punch in the face for being LGBT, compared to a lifetime of verbal abuse and admonishment because people don’t like who and how I love? I’m not trying to speak for LGBT people here, but I’m sure you will have enough sense to see that the spectrum of homophobia can be a little more complicated when you’re on the receiving end.

Back to my point. Do I think the Iona Institute is homophobic? Yes, I do. But while homophobia is wrong, I think it can certainly be “less bad” once you take valid criticism of your viewpoints as an opportunity to step back, see where those beliefs are coming from, who they affect, and if you should consider someone else’s (possibly more reasoned) argument. If you have a good, solid, reasoned basis for your opinion against marriage equality, there’s a good chance it’s actually not homophobic. Unfortunately, we have yet to see any such valid argument, and as a result, the arguments against marriage equality thus far are unreasonable and have a basis in homophobia. (I’m saying homophobia here in the sense of two gay people getting married: Iona don’t seem to have a problem with bisexuals getting married as long as it’s an opposing-sex marriage)

What do I mean by having a basis in homophobia? From what I can see, homophobia – and indeed other social phobias – is a self-feeding cycle. If you believe that LGBT should be treated differently than heterosexual people, it likely comes from an old or deep prejudice towards them. When you do, then treat them differently, other people see them as different, and that prejudice forms again. Take, for example, calling something “gay”: it comes from the idea that being gay is wrong or abnormal. But by continuing to use “gay” as an insult or a derogatory term, it simply serves to feed the underlying prejudice that there’s something wrong with gay people.

I don’t know where the homophobic prejudices held by members of the Iona Institute come from, but it certainly seems that religious groups often have an overlap with “low-level” homophobia. Most of Iona’s (bad) arguments against marriage equality center around raising children, and as you probably know, a lot of people don’t like the idea of two gay men raising a family for a variety of reasons (but strangely two women seems fine).

The Iona Institute believe that marriage is a child-centered institution, and that the purpose of marriage extends beyond love and into procreation. Waiting until your married to have a family is perfectly fine, but by saying that marriage is more than just love, Iona feel that marriage between people who don’t want to, or can’t, have children is something “less” than their ideal picture of a traditional marriage. I have no doubt that my single friends raising children, or my unmarried friends who have a family, might be quite put out by this notion that having children must only be the preserve of a married man and woman.

And before we forget, Breda O’Brien almost managed a quip at children born from a surrogate parent before Marian Finucane interjected. You can listen to it in the interview, but to paraphrase succinctly, “We can’t have marriage equality because then children from surrogate parents would be treated the same as others”. So what if people start a family with the help of others? I don’t understand why the Iona Institute is so struck with terror at this prospect. It’s almost as if they’re dying to pull out a slipper slope fallacy and say “next thing you know there’ll be three people at the altar getting married! Imagine!”

My friend Alan Flanagan wrote excellently about how the Helen Lovejoy rhetoric is damaging to children, but O’Brien goes even further to have a go at parents who agree with “third parties” to “commission” children. Imagine you were a child being raised by loving same-sex parents who gave you the best in life, only to be told you were “commissioned by a third party”. How would you feel being compared to a spare part made in a factory? I can’t help but feel that some people yearn for the days of fallen women and bastard children.

Both of the above positions stem from Iona’s insistence that a child has the right to a biological mother and a father. You can probably see the fallacy straight away: everyone does have biological parents, so it’s a moot issue. To further point out the absurdity, let’s say someone’s parents have died: are they now being denied their right to biological parents? Should they take the State to court as they’re being denied that right? And what of those who have been adopted? It’s utterly silly, and the Iona Instute will have exceptions to every single situation once their “logic” is challenged.

It must be noted, too, that Alan Shatter has stated that the issue of same-sex couples being unable to adopt will be addressed and rectified regardless of the outcome of the referendum on marriage equality, effectively pointing out that children should not be used as a political weapon in this discussion. So why are members of the Iona Institute not arguing against this instead of marriage equality? I haven’t heard a peep from them in regards to this. Might it because, for them, it’s actually not about children at all, and that they just don’t like the idea of gay couples?

In another example of Iona’s weird understanding of what’s going on, some of them are claiming to be “silenced”, yet Breda O’Brien has been on radio several times, has written about her “victimisation” in the Irish Catholic, and also has a column in the Irish Times. David Quinn, head of the Iona Institute, also has a column in the Irish Independent, and has appeared on TV about this issue. Their supporters, John Waters and Senator Ronan Mullen have used their influence to also talk about this in the media. It was the Iona Institute that took legal action against RTE in the first place that resulted in the media being rather quiet about it all when it kicked off. Who’s being silenced here? Certainly not Iona. Their attitude is “baww but what about meeee?” as they play the victim in all of this.

Nobody is stopping Iona talk or comparing them to violent gay-bashers, but they need to learn to accept criticism about their homophobic views from the very people who know exactly what homophobia is, and all the different forms it can take. Very shortly their bleating will begin to be ignored again as the rest of the country moves on and figures out how best to treat everyone as equals.