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The Forgotten History of Gay Marriage

The Forgotten History of Gay Marriage

Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite. It was originally published on March 14, 2012. Since then, there have been many changes and advancements in LGBT rights around the world. The information in this post still holds true, though, and is an important reminder. Enjoy!

Republicans and other opponents of gay marriage often speak of marriage as being a 2,000 year old tradition (or even older). Quite apart from the fact that the definition of marriage has changed from when it was a business transaction, usually between men, there is ample evidence that within just Christian tradition, it has changed from the point where same-sex relationships were not just tolerated but celebrated.

In the famous St. Catherine’s monastery on Mount Sinai, there is an icon which shows two robed Christian saints getting married. Their ‘pronubus’ (official witness, or “best man”) is none other than Jesus Christ.

The happy couple are 4th Century Christian martyrs, Saint Serge and Saint Bacchus — both men.

Severus of Antioch in the sixth century explained that “we should not separate in speech [Serge and Bacchus] who were joined in life.” More bluntly, in the definitive 10th century Greek account of their lives, Saint Serge is described as the “sweet companion and lover (erastai)” of St. Bacchus.

Legend says that Bacchus appeared to the dying Sergius as an angel, telling him to be brave because they would soon be reunited in heaven.

Yale historian John Richard Boswell discovered this early Christian history and wrote about it nearly 20 years ago in “Same Sex Unions In Pre-Modern Europe“ (1994).

In ancient church liturgical documents, he found the existence of an “Office of Same Sex Union” (10th and 11th century Greek) and the “Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th and 12th century Slavonic).

He found many examples of:

  • A community gathered in a church
  • A blessing of the couple before the altar
  • Their right hands joined as at heterosexual marriages
  • The participation of a priest
  • The taking of the Eucharist
  • A wedding banquet afterwards
  • A 14th century Serbian Slavonic “Office of the Same Sex Union,” uniting two men or two women, had the couple having their right hands laid on the Gospel while having a cross placed in their left hands. Having kissed the Gospel, the couple were then required to kiss each other, after which the priest, having raised up the Eucharist, would give them both communion.

    Boswell documented such sanctified unions up until the 18th century.

    In late medieval France, a contract of “enbrotherment” (affrèrement) existed for men who pledged to live together sharing ‘un pain, un vin, et une bourse’ – one bread, one wine, and one purse.

    Other religions, such as Hinduism and some native American religions, have respect for same-sex couples weaved into their history.

    When right-wing evangelical Christians talk about “traditional marriage,” there is no such thing.

    Related stories:

    Pope Tells US Bishops to Fight Gay Marriage, Cohabitation

    Let Gays into ‘Christian Marriage’ Says St Paul’s New Dean

    Cardinal Defends ‘Gay Marriage is Like Slavery’ Comparison

    Read more: , , ,

    Image of icon of Sts. Sergius & Bacchus by St. John Cassian Press

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    1237 comments

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    3:14PM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

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    2:03PM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

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    1:33PM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

    Robert, sometimes I have to reload the page to get the flag abuse icon to show up.

    1:25PM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

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    12:44PM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

    BUt stop trying to pretend you have answers the rest of us dont have when, just like us, you dont even understand the questions. NONE of us knows what God is or WHY god is. NONE OF US!. It is wahy past our understanding or experience level.

    WE have strayed WAY off topic of course and we should end this and get back on topic.

    if god didnt want there to be gay people he wouldnt have created a universe with the bell curves he did. Gay people are within the bell curve of humanity.
    You cant pray them away and you cant legislate them away. You cant psychologize them away. They are here they will always be here. They have done no harm to humanity. We have over populated the planet. Jsut get over it.

    12:37PM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

    The message is NOT clear….at all. And your saying it is is simply you BELIEVING and accepting that your vision is correct. Thats wonderful for YOU. YOUR vision is correct for YOU NO ONE ELSE!!! Saying we are bein g wilfully ignorant and atheist is meaingless. YOU have chosen to accept this. I am happy for you. The message is only clear to YOU because you have stopped seeing the entire picture. More power to you.

    And what is it we need salvation from?? Oroginal sin??? God is willing to punish and entire species for what ONE person did at the beginning of Man?? I should be flollowing an idot that damns an entire species for ONE units mistake??? That is lunacy and I doubt God as described is a lunatic. Some of the men who WROTE about God most likely were though. The ddevil is a fabrication of the church to cover their own asses for people who simply wouldnt fall in line. The devil is making them do it. See Ron the ONLT species on the planet who needs good and evil the only one who DEFINES life as good an evil are HUMANS. Life simply IS!!!! No other being in the animal kingdom sees life as good or bad. They are either alive or they are not.
    Hell we used to see good andf evil in thunder and lightening and floods too. It OF COURSE did NOT exist!!! If God has a message for us Ron it will not be something so uttler simplistic as good and evil it will be MUCH more profound than that. If you are comfortable in the much smaller message

    12:27PM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

    Well Ron. If God thought it was so utterly important for us to understaqnd his message he would have done a MUCH better job explaining it. In fact he is likely one of thw worst teachers I have ever had. He wouldnt be relying on other people to teach us the message. Look around you Ron How many religions are there in the world??? How many sects of Christianisty?? The message is NOT clear unless you blindly accept what some people wrote in a a HUGE number of books that eventaully was combined into one book, the Bible. Each written by different authors many from different cultures and countries. And even THAT wasnt good enough. There were still DOZENS odf sects. Evenutally Costnatine brought chruch leaders together and demanded ONE main canon. So many books were ripped out of the bible in their entirety to please Constantine. And even THAT wasnt good enough. In later times we STILL saw Christianity slplitting into smaller groups along dogma lines. I can drive down the street in any city and within an hours see at least 10 different sects of Christianity all with their own lil inconsitincies.

    Does this sound like Gods message is CLEAR beyond any shadow of a doubt??? The message is cloudy and murky. And what about all the religions that arent even Christian? If his message was sooooooo clear as you pretend there wouldnt be religious chaos in the world. The message is NOT clear….at all. And your saying it is is simply you BELIEVING and accep

    12:21PM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

    Well, that was really informative .. thanks a lot!!!

    12:17PM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

    Personally BMutiny, I agree about the effectiveness of English longbow, but it is still debated (quite hotly) by eminent historians.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E--DR8ZllVo

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