The Iona Institute & Helen Lovejoy Syndrome


As any fan of The Simpsons might recognise, the anti-gay marriage brigade throw real children under the ‘morality bus’ in their blind fight against change, says Alan Flanagan.


As we move through 2014, past the homophobia debate that raged during the year’s first months, and nearer the proposed 2015 referendum, the marriage equality debate will continue to dominate our media.

And with any referendum comes the idea of providing ‘balanced’ coverage. This is always a bit of a tricky concept, because it puts the likes of RTÉ 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 now world-renowned Iona Institute, whose remit is to promote “the place of marriage and religion in society”. Recent #Pantigate developments aside, 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 – usually David Quinn – talking about the importance of keeping the institution of marriage confined to the differently genitaled.

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 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. I was born. I learned to walk, to talk, to eat my greens and ride my bicycle and braid my hair (I wish).

And then, like all other gays, I learned to keep my fucking mouth shut.

Because this is the great problem with the Iona Institute and Helen Lovejoy Syndrome – in the drive 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.

They realise they will grow up in a world where they will never be able to get married, to have kids, to share in the most basic definition of family that has raised them and shown them love up to that point. The common landmarks of a life – relationships, marriage, kids, grandkids – are robbed from us. The psychological damage of believing you don’t 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 those closest to you. If you can only try and pass for straight, you think, 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.

Instead of caring about the plight of LGBT children, they focus instead 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 in media coverage 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 he’s a 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.

This piece originally appeared as a blog post at

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