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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

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

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7:28AM PDT on Mar 23, 2015

Of course not....the concept of parthenogenesis is definitely NOT in sync with biblical ''truth.'' Thanks for the stars.

9:24PM PDT on Mar 22, 2015

pam--That's okay.The buffet buy-bull crowd can't handle long words, anyway.

May you be showered in stars {;+)

9:24PM PDT on Mar 22, 2015

Roberto M.: The picture illustrating this posting, is take from the book by Yale Historian John Richard Boswell, "Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe".
It is in fact taken from the jacket COVER of that book; which I have seen and partly read.
No, those are not "brothers" depicted.
J.R. Boswell chose that illustration because it DOES depict Same-sex Unions in the CHURCH in pre-modern Europe.
J.R. Boswell also cites MARRIAGE CEREMONIES that were CELEBRATED IN THE CHURCH - between two Men, and between two Women. That is, there was a SPECIFIC WORDING for such Ceremonies - just like there are certain words spoken by the priests during Mass, during Baptisms, etc.
In that illustration, which I read about in the book, the point is being made that CHRIST - who is shown between the pair - is the priest marrying the pair. That means there is something SPECIALLY BLESSED about the relationship.
[It is actually a painting, not a mosaic. But it does share that style.]
One reason these things weren't generally known before, is, that the language many of these ceremonies were written in, were antique and obsolete such as Old Church Slavonic. Only translated recently.

8:52PM PDT on Mar 22, 2015

RATS! The word is PARTHENOGENESIS....I left out a letter.

8:16PM PDT on Mar 22, 2015

Roberto M~~

The government has over a thousand rights and responsibilities that require you to be "married". THEY have set the rules. We just feel all Americans have the equal right to those rules.

1:42PM PDT on Mar 22, 2015

Angela R~~~~


There is scientific proof of same sex behavior in over 150 Mammal species. Your Calvinistic viewpoint of "marriage" is, by contrast, only a few centuries ols, and limited to Europe and North America.

And considered most "unnatural" in the majority of the world.

9:37AM PDT on Mar 22, 2015

are you sure this mosaic represent a marriage, they could be brothes for example

9:01AM PDT on Mar 22, 2015


7:48AM PDT on Mar 22, 2015

Angela..."...going against nature?"

Well, Angela, I have almost 25 years' experience working with animals...domestic and ''wild.'' Here's what I know about your ''nature.".....Same-gender relationships exist among many animals...birds and mammals. It IS ''natural."

"Nature" depends on species' survival but not all individuals within a specific species breed. I've seen penguins and Cape vultures dedicatedly hatch and raise other birds' chicks. The zoo where I work regularly gives a fertile egg to a 2-male couple because they obviously want to raise one. Is this ''against nature?" If so...why?

Some species can survive through PARHENOGENESIS...they can clone themselves. Vietnamese walking sticks & whiptail lizards are only two such species. Is this ''against nature?" If so...why?

Evolution favors MANY systems of reproduction and sexual expression. YOUR ideas of ''nature'' need some revision, Angela, before you take swipes at Joseph G. Your contradictory ancient texts (which include sections ''lifted'' from even more ancient texts) are NOT a biology book and are irrelevant to the study of ''nature.'' They certainly don't apply to billions of other people who share the planet with you.

6:27AM PDT on Mar 22, 2015

Still trying to justify going against nature, Joseph G.?

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