Sibling Rivalry

Dear Ms Virginia Utley, Secretary to the Catholic Diocesan Education Commission,

I read with great interest the open letter you wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron a few days ago entitled “Please, Mr Cameron, why can’t my sister and I get married?“. In it, you ask Mr Cameron to let you marry your sister for the tax benefits. You base this request on the fact that David Cameron allowed gay people to marry when they got “cross” with him, so, therefore, he should allow you to marry your sister or else you too will get cross with him. It’s an incredible letter and I hope you don’t mind me writing a few of the ways in which I find it interesting.

Firstly, before I look at the nitty gritty, I must say that I think it’s wonderful that  staunch Catholics like you, who only two years ago bemoaned the erosion of traditional marriage, have now given up your traditions entirely and are attempting to move as far away as possible from what you told us must be maintained at all costs lest society collapse around our ears. By asking for marriage to be opened up to you and your sister, you are flying in the face of traditional Catholic teaching and that gives me hope to believe that some day soon you will lead the charge against some of the other curious teachings of the Catholic Church (abortion, contraception, divorce and priestly celibacy to name but a few). What a powerful force for change you are surely going to turn out to be. A true pioneer of liberal Catholicism!

Now, to comment on a couple of specific points in your letter. At the start, you give an accurate and detailed explanation of how same-sex marriage came to be legalised in the UK. Here it is:

“They say that boys who didn’t really want to marry girls got cross and said they would like to marry boys and likewise some girls wanted to marry girls!

So you said they could have something very like being married but not quite – because of course boys couldn’t really marry boys and girls couldn’t really marry girls.  So you said they could be ‘civil partners’. Then, they got cross again – even crosser this time – and said that they definitely wanted to get married like boys and girls were allowed to.

So, after a bit, you said: ‘Yes, OK, so long as you love each other, why shouldn’t you? Marriage is a good thing.’ So then there were boys with boys and girls with girls in civil partnerships and boys married to boys and girls married to girls. And of course there were still boys and girls married to each other just as they always were.”

I am very impressed with these paragraphs. It’s very clever of you to explain a process that took many years in only seven sentences and so brave of you to do it in a tone that many might view as glib or childish and which could open you up, in many people’s eyes, to looking totally stupid.

It’s also very brave of you to describe the hard-fought struggle of gay men and women as them being “cross”. The word “cross” is often used to describe our feelings towards minor annoyances (the Pope’s reaction to his skirts blowing up in the wind and flashing his knickers, for instance) and by using it to describe a long and sometimes painful struggle against inequality (certainly not a minor annoyance) some might consider that you are attempting to belittle that struggle, which would, of course, be abhorrent.  Luckily, however, the reason you are writing to David Cameron is to ask him to let you marry your sister, so clearly you do not believe that marriage should only be between one man and one woman, and therefore you cannot possibly have meant to belittle gay people’s struggle for marriage equality. Unless you were trying to employ some sophisticated irony, but I doubt that.

You go on in your letter to explain why you and your sister being in a marriage or civil partnership would make good financial sense were one of you to die:

“But if you don’t let us get married and you don’t let us become civil partners either, we are in big trouble if one sister dies. That’s because the sister who hasn’t died will have to move house to pay the tax. Then where will she live, and where will the cats and the child live?”

I admire how here you throw in a genuinely serious problem in the midst of a letter which, as a result of your language choice and tone, some might think childish and glib. I’m sure this is all part of a clever plan to give David Cameron the impression that this letter is totally fatuous and trite before you hit him between the eyes with a serious concern. You certainly nailed the fatuous part.

You end your letter by reminding the Prime Minister how cross you and your sister will be if he doesn’t let you marry, just as the gays were “very cross” with him. You tell him that you’re sure he won’t say no to you because he said yes to the gays and he has to keep things fair. And that’s the killer argument right there, isn’t it? Because gay people had a clear, logical and reasoned argument for why they should be allowed to marry the people they love, you should be allowed to marry your sister. No further persuasive argument needed. And you certainly don’t waste time trying to provide any of that.

So, there we go. My little homage to your open letter. I really hope that Mr Cameron reads it and replies to you. I have some experience of writing open letters, though, and my advice is not to hold your breath for a response. People only really tend to reply if what you’re saying is sensible and well-reasoned.

Yours,

R