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

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


Sherry C
Sherry Cabout a year ago


.1 years ago

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Dimitris Dallis
Past Member 2 years ago


Lawrence Dsouza
Lawrence D2 years ago

To each one there own. Live and let live if not respect how about tolerence for sanity.

Benny R.
Benny R2 years ago

It is all about commitment - anyone who is prepared to commit him/herself to another person needs to be applauded, no matter whether (s)he is gay or straight.

Real family values is about treating people equally - commitment and responsibility vs. their lack. Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. Imagine yourself in other people's shoes, and do not judge lest ye be judged.

Of course that same-sex couples should be able to marry the person they love. I suspect we will all look back someday and wonder what all the fuss has been about - the same way we would not question equal rights for people of different ethnicities, religious creeds or disabilities today.

Aaron Rosenberg
Aaron Rosenberg2 years ago

Good thing we con't actually need same-sex marriage to have been validated by Christianity past (or any religion, ever) in order to validate it today. Appeals to tradition for tradition's sake are meaningless.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown2 years ago

Translation: "I am offended by historical facts."

Anthony D.
Anthony D.2 years ago

An incredible amount of presentism, revisionism, logical fallacies, wishful thinking and faulty assumptions went into the outrageous claims that this article tries to make. Heck, the central figure that it uses in its example is one that is considered apocryphal and ahistorical by many. But that doesn't matter, when you're trying to shoehorn a completely modern, totally secular viewpoint into a theology that is fundamentally incompatible with it. The ends justify the means, of course, certainly to those that see both morality and truth as relative.

Furthermore, even if these outlandish stories were true and meant to be interpreted the way that this author does, Christianity was already well in the midst of a deep and severe apostasy by the time that these events allegedly unfolded. So the mere fact that they happened would not in and of themselves validate the practices theologically, any more than indulgences and the Inquisition were validated.

Joseph Glackin
Joseph Glackin2 years ago

btw, Scott~~~~
Invoking Hitler to define your opponent/defend your argument is commonly known as invoking "Godwin's Law"--That is, you have no better point to make.

It means you lose