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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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    2569 comments

    + add your own
    7:56AM PDT on Jul 12, 2014

    My belief remains unshaken as I believe Christ, God, Holy Spirit just wanted us to be happy.

    12:23AM PDT on Jun 3, 2014

    "Paul he's in the Bible too. He is the fellow who theologized Christ almost out of Christianity. Look out for him." - Poet Robert Frost

    "Paul was the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus." - Thomas Jefferson

    "The real architect of the Christian church was not the disreputable, sunbaked Hebrew (Jesus Christ) who gave it its name but rather the mercilessly fanatical and self-righteous Paul." - Author James Baldwin

    "The Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount is completely opposed to Paul." - Martin Buber

    "This Paul is indeed a strange man. His soul is not the soul of a free man. He speaks not of Jesus nor does he repeat His Words. He would strike with his own hammer upon the anvil in the Name of One whom he does not know." - Kahlil Gibran

    "Saul's [Paul's name before his conversion] fanatical resistance to Christianity. . . . was never entirely overcome. It is frankly disappointing to see how Paul hardly ever allows the real Jesus of Nazareth to get a word in." - Carl Jung

    And I'm just gettin' started here ...

    2:07PM PDT on Jun 1, 2014

    I Agree with that, If Jesus came back and saw what we did with his teachings he would sa what the hell have you done!!! This isnt what I meant!!! Did you even READ My Word?? Umm Paul who the hell are YOU and why are YOU misrepresenting my words to the world???

    12:42PM PDT on May 31, 2014

    And Paul hijacked the entire religious movement. It should not be called Christianity (since it does't follow his teachings) it should be called "Paulianity," because Jesus is just a figurehead deity and it is the teachings of Paul, that they really follow. And I agree with the "con man" assessment.

    12:29PM PDT on May 31, 2014

    I think the answer to that lies question, Dale, lies in the misogynistic writings of Saul of Tarses, a student of Rabbi Gamliel, and rising star in the Pharasee world. Against Gamliel's orders, he'd repeatedly persecute and order the death of christians (what conservative christians today call persecution is NOTHING) and was sent into the desert to die. Suffering from heatstroke, he saw a mirage he believed was Jesus, changed his name to Paul, and then decided it was better to persecute jews instead. I feel he was simply a con man, an identity thief, and the world's first marxist. In fact, he flat out admits this in 1 cor 9

    20 And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;

    21 to them that are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law.

    22 To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.

    3:05AM PDT on May 31, 2014

    An interesting part of the article specified:

    "In ancient church liturgical documents, he found the existence of an “Office of Same Sex Union”

    Why is it that some churches are tolerant and perform gay marriage and then there are some who are so truly intolerant (aka the Westboro Baptist Church which, along with some other fundamentalists have actively harassed the gay community) and cannot understand that one does not have to adhere to bigotry and intolerance?

    1:08PM PDT on May 30, 2014

    Alvi, lol I just thought posting it 3 times was intentional satire of you know who.

    8:21AM PDT on May 30, 2014

    Oops, my cell phone is so smart, it gave me 3 x 1.

    6:57PM PDT on May 29, 2014

    Guess Roger is a little less FOCUSED on this thread now and perhaps more FOCUSED on developing new identities elsewhere. FOCUS, Roger, on getting a life.

    6:57PM PDT on May 29, 2014

    Guess Roger is a little less FOCUSED on this thread now and perhaps more FOCUSED on developing new identities elsewhere. FOCUS, Roger, on getting a life.

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