One well-established method to examine fundamental ethical questions is to pose imagined ethical dilemmas and discuss them in the abstract. Every student of philosophy is familiar with this methodology, and a recent BBC 4 series featured Michael Sandel in a series of lectures from his Harvard course in Political Philosophy which contained many examples.
On the subject of gay marriage, I have such a hypothetical dilemma to posit to Cardinal O'Brien, and it is one that those opposed to gay marriage from other Scottish churches and faiths - and politicians - might also wish to consider.
THE HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO
A prominent Roman Catholic - or a prominent member of the Church of Scotland, or member of the Jewish or Muslim faiths or any other church or faith - pursues a successful career in public life.
He or she is gay, and is in a long-standing relationship with someone of the same sex. But the nature of that career and the social pressures associated with it lead that person to the judgement that he or she cannot acknowledge the true nature of their sexuality, or the nature of the relationship with the person closest to them.
This leads them to a legal marriage, and a wedding solemnised by their particular faith in a church, to someone of the opposite sex, for the sake of public appearances.
My questions to the Cardinal, to any other church leader or politician who opposes the legalisation of gay marriages, and specifically to Gordon Wilson, elder statesman of the SNP, are these -
1. Are they prepared to accept that their church's or faith's opposition to gay marriage in effect forced this public figure into this unsatisfactory action and this path of deceit and concealment?
2. Would not the legalisation of gay marriage in a civil ceremony, and the ability to also solemnise it in a church of their choice not have at least reduced the need for the public figure's course of action, or indeed eliminated it completely?
3. Are the Church leaders, faith leaders and politicians prepared to condone such deceits if they have full knowledge of them, rather than either condemn them publicly or accept that such a loving relationship be legal, and ideally be given the blessing of the church or faith?