As we plummet headlong into 2014 — hoverboards in our arms, Demolition-man sex visors propped neatly on our heads — the marriage equality debate continues to gain shouty, shouty momentum in advance of the upcoming referendum.
I’m not going to spend another blog post on my opinions on the issue, because they are pretty damned clear: I may be single and ready to mingle, but I wouldn’t mind having an aul marriage and 2.4 babies at some point (and even if I don’t, I’d like the option to be out there).
What I do feel like addressing is the recent “balanced” coverage of the referendum. Balanced coverage is always a bit of a tricky one, because it puts RTE in the uncomfortable position of having to trot out opposition and proposition viewpoints whether said viewpoints may be valid or not.
Core to the opposition team have been the Iona Institute, whose remit is to promote “the place of marriage and religion in society”. Anyone who’s turned on a television, opened a newspaper, or been accosted by an epileptic pigeon messenger in the past six months will have probably seen representatives of the Iona Institute, normally David Quinn, talking about the importance of keeping the institution of marriage confined to the differently genital-ed.
Which is, I suppose, his right to do. While I believe that protecting religious rights is not the same as forcing them on others (in the same way that installing a home security system is not the same as robbing your neighbour’s house), we live in a democracy and people have the right to et cetera et cetera et cetera.
What I do take umbrage with, however, is what I like to call Helen Lovejoy Syndrome. Anyone familiar with The Simpsons knows that there is a very important, very memorable quote — deftly layered into the narrative — that has bearing on the ongoing marriage equality debate. And that quote is:
“Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and then the baby looked at me.”
Wait, sorry, not that one. It’s actually:
“Oh, won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children?!”
During a debate on another of Springfield’s possible descents into immorality, Helen Lovejoy utters this piece of wisdom. It’s not just a quality line with stunning delivery, but it’s also a subtle parody of That Type Of Person. The type of person, in lieu of being able to find a reasonable argument against something, instead throws our collective children in front of the morality bus in the hopes that it will get the job done instead.
And this, my learned friends, is what the Iona Institute have been doing on the national airwaves over the past few months, and will continue to do in the future.
The Iona Institute are interested in the issue of marriage equality, they say, in order to protect children. It is their belief that allowing same-sex couples to get married will harm the children involved.
You’ll notice that their arguments rarely take into account anything except for children. This is probably because, after some heavy research, they’ve discovered that there isn’t any reasonable argument against LGBT people engaging in marriage rights, so they’ve chosen the old “spring-loaded children vs. morality bus” argument.
So David Quinn et al. will appear in national newspapers and on national broadcasters talking about how allowing same-sex couples to adopt will cause irreparable damage to the children involved. Who are these children? Well they’re Ireland’s children, of course. And, to borrow another Simpsons quote for a moment:
“Children! Children! FUTURE! FUTURE! KIDS!“
Because, after all, children aren’t children. Children are the vague future. And if there’s anything people can be made afraid of, it’s the future.
The problem with children, though, is that they grow up.
I myself, for instance, was once a child. That’s right, gay people don’t spring forth into life at the age of 19, abs akimbo, in some dark corner of The George. We were born. We were kids. We learned to walk, to talk, to eat our greens and ride our bicycles and braid our hair.
And then we learned to keep our fucking mouths shut.
Because this is the great problem with the Iona Institute and Helen Lovejoy Syndrome: in the urge to protect hypothetical children, they’re harming real children. Real LGBT youth who by the time they are six, seven, eight years old — and start to get the inkling that our predispositions might be more of a rarity — have discovered that the world is subtly but cleanly structured against them. To grow up in a world where you know that you will never be able to get married, to have kids, to share in the most basic definition of family that has raised you and shown you love up to that point. It takes the common landmarks of a life — relationships, marriage, kids, grandkids — and robs them from you. The psychological damage of not believing you have a future is reflected in the mental health statistics of those in the LGBT community.
It also creates an immediate and sometimes irreversible wall between you and the ones closest to you. If you can only try and pass, you say, if you can only convince them that you are not different, then they will love you.
But the Iona Institute are not interested in LGBT children. They are interested in hypothetical, blond-haired scallywags who enjoy nothing more than a sing-song and lashings of ginger beer.
So they focus not on LGBT children, instead they focus on the children of LGBT couples. Okay, fine. The hypothetical, might-happen-only-if-the-law-changes blond-haired scallywags of LGBT couples.
Except, of course, these children aren’t hypothetical.
There are hundreds of children, all over Ireland, who are being raised by same-sex couples. You wouldn’t know it, because of media coverage, because the issue is consistently framed as “what will this do to these children?” instead of “what has this done to these children?”
And, the truth is, not very much. Any cursory examination of international data on children of same-sex couples — sparse though it may be — shows that they fare as well or better than those of opposite-sex couples. And you could always talk to them. They don’t mind talking about it. I had the pleasure of sharing a radio studio a little while ago with a member of Believe In Equality, a group of children of same-sex couples who are arguing for same-sex marriage and parenting rights. They are fully in support of these laws. And why wouldn’t they be, it would make their lives a lot easier.
The question then is: why is David Quinn speaking on behalf of these children? Why is he chosen by the producers of Prime Time, or the Late Late Show, or Morning Ireland, or whoever it might be to speak as if he is the moral guardian of these children?
Because Helen Lovejoy, that’s why. Because at the heart of it, there are two types of children. There are “children” and there are “CHILDREN”. There are real children — LGBT kids or children of same-sex couples — and there are hypothetical lashings of ginger beer.
The latter might sound nice on the radio, but the former are the ones truly affected by this debate.