Friday, August 23, 2013

Same-Sex Marriages Not All That New

Not long ago Pope Francis said that he doesn't care "if someone is gay [as long as] he searches for the Lord and has good will."
That angered religious anti-gay bigots. But the Popes attitude is not really all that new. It is historical fact that the original Christian Church of 100AD regularly performed sacralized unions of people of the same sex.

While gay marriage sounds like an ultra-modern concept, a Catholic scholar at Yale shocked the world 20 years ago by publishing a book packed with evidence that same-sex marriages were sanctioned by the early Christian Church.

John Boswell was an historian and religious Catholic who dedicated much of his scholarly life to studying the late Roman Empire and early Christian Church. Poring over legal and church documents from this era, he discovered something incredible. There were dozens of records of church ceremonies where two men were joined in unions using the same rituals as heterosexual marriages.

Boswell published a book in 1994 called Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. The book comes out next month for the first time in a digital edition. It was an instant lightening rod for controversy, drawing criticism from the Catholic Church, which attempted to marginalize it's findings and surpress it's distribution.

Legal scholar Richard Ante wrote a law journal article explaining that Boswell's book could even be used as evidence for the legality of gay marriage, since it shows evidence that definitions of marriage have changed over time. He describes some of Boswell's evidence of these same-sex rites in the early first millennium: 
The burial rite given for Achilles and Patroclus, both men, was the burial rite for a man and his wife. The relationships of Hadrian and Antinous, of Polyeuct and Nearchos, of Perpetua and Felicitas, and of Saints Serge and Bacchus, all bore resemblance to heterosexual marriages of their times. The iconography of Serge and Bacchus was even used in same-sex nuptial ceremonies by the early Christian Church.

Were these same-sex unions in the middle ages the same thing as today's gay marriages? Probably not. People at the time did not view two men forming a union as anything out of the ordinary. Marriage itself meant something different thousands of years ago, and social taboos against homosexuality had not yet solidified. Boswell found and documented (in over 100 pages of appendixes) records of institutions where same-sex couples were joined with the same ceremonies that opposite-sex couples enjoyed.

History can often be an inconvenient truth. In this case it is somewhat inconvenient for the religious bigots. There is clear evidence that from the very beginning of the early Christian Church up until the early 13th century, two men could live as "brothers," sharing wealth, home, and family. And yes, they could love each other, too.

Live Long and Prosper...

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