Natalie letter to Sarah Teather MP, who voted against civil marital equality, has been confronted by a strong backlash in her constituency. But here is my personal favourite letter publicly sent to her.
I’ve never written to you before. In fact I’ve never written to an MP before (although many times I intended to). And I’m not writing to all the MPs who voted against the Bill or abstained. Only you. Because none of them surprised and disappointed me as you did.
I read your statement. I fully appreciate that this was an extremely difficult issue for you.
We are similar people in many ways and I have followed your career with interest and admiration. I was born in 1973, just a year before you; like you, I went to an independent school and then Oxbridge. I live in Finchley and Golders Green and voted for you in 2001, although in every other election in my life I have voted Labour; I was just so impressed to see such a young woman – specifically a woman – in that position; and I was impressed by the sense of what you said.
I started my career in NHS frontline management and now work in health policy and health improvement in hospitals. Like you, I am deeply liberal in my political views and yet am religious – I am Jewish and deeply engaged in my community and synagogue. I assumed that on domestic policy issues (let’s leave aside foreign policy for now), you would continue to say things with which I agree.
But here’s the thing. While at Oxford I fell in love with my best friend – who was also Jewish and came out as gay. My partner Sam and I have been together since 1997 – an incredible 16 years now.
Your statement suggests to me that you’ve missed out on understanding what’s actually going on in the lives of gay men and women under 40, particularly in London. Admittedly, it’s a relatively new trend – around 10 years old maximum – but actually it’s a key trend within your own constituency. That trend is quite simply, that we now have children conceived within our gay relationships through fertility clinics (women), surrogacy (men) and adoption (both).
For example, the London Women’s Clinic is a Harley Street clinic that makes a huge profit (see their accounts) almost exclusively from treating gay women through donor sperm and IVF. The census results aren’t yet available to show what the 2011 numbers were for same-sex/civil partnered households that also include children, but when they are released, they are likely to reveal a significant change since 2001.
The core components of your argument about why gay people shouldn’t be able to have marriages are that i) marriage needs to remain the key vehicle by which we create stability and security for children and ii) it shouldn’t be “only” about romantic or loving connections between two adults. I’m mystified by how you could have come to this conclusion.
Firstly, there’s the question of what this means for straight married people who haven’t had children, for whatever reason. I’ll leave them to write to you themselves, but I’m sure you know by now that you’ve (probably unwittingly) offended many people who’ve either chosen not to have children or even worse, been unable to have them or lost them. Does that make their marriage less valid or worthwhile?
But of course, where I am really amazed by your flawed logic is the surprising ignorance you show about the likelihood of gay people having children. In fact, I completely agree with you about marriage being the right context in which to have children. That’s precisely why we chose to have a religious wedding in 2005, before we began the process of conceiving. It was because our religious tradition – as well as modern sociological evidence – tells us that marriage is the right thing to do if you intend to have children.
I invite you, genuinely and openly, to come and visit us, to spend time with us in our house in Finchley and to meet our gorgeous children. We have many Jewish friends who have struggled with the tensions between their faith and their feelings about this issue and we would talk with you with great empathy for that challenge. If this is as serious and difficult an issue for you as you say, then I really hope that you can invest the time in continuing to learn and gather the evidence that should inform your views.