Gay Marriages Took Place In The Christian Church Nearly 2,000 Years Ago

same-sex-unionHistorian John Boswell’s seminal book on the roots of gay marriage, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, comes out for the first time in a digital edition next month. The timing seems perfect in the wake of the death of DOMA and Prop 8, though Boswell himself died from complications from AIDS before he saw that momentous day.

Author Annalee Newitz profiles Boswell, a Yale scholar and religious Catholic, as well as his work on i09. Newitz recalls how Boswell dedicated the majority of his scholarly life to researching the late Roman Empire and early Christian Church which yielded some remarkable findings:

There were dozens of records of church ceremonies where two men were joined in unions that used the same rituals as heterosexual marriages. (He found almost no records of lesbian unions, which is probably an artifact of a culture which kept more records about the lives of men generally.)

The poor lesbians — always getting the figurative shaft, for lack of the literal. Anyqueer, Boswell argued that the Church tried to sweep these same-sex unions under the holy rug and redefined marriage — sound familiar — in the 13th century “to be for the purpose of procreation,” as conservatives loudly like to remind us at every turn. But if the Church — not to mention the Oxford Dictionary — can redefine marriage once, what’s wrong with doing it again?

The unions, Newitz points out, don’t necessarily fit the definition of marriage we have today. Taboos against homosexuality, which as a social construct is relatively new (the love that dared not speak its name went unnamed until the late 19th century), as well as the original purpose of matrimony — wealth/land sharing — have changed over time. But many of these unions in Boswell’s research involved the love of two people of the same-sex, which were in turn consecrated by the Christian Church.

So next time someone starts mouthing off about redefining marriage, politely remind them that every few hundred years or so, ancient institutions like to be shaken up a little.

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  • ouragannyc

    I hope this book gets spoken about all over the media

  • the other Greg

    @ouragannyc: Boswell’s original print book on this subject (different title I think) got a lot of attention when it came out (pun intended) in the ’80s. I’ve wondered why it was so rarely brought up in the recent years’ marriage arguments.

  • tallskin2


    This doesn’t alter the fact that christianity invented homophobia in the Roman Empire – the first anti -gay laws were passed very soon after the emperor contantine made christianity the main cult of the empire. And 1,500 years later we’re just coming out of that.

  • Kevin

    His first book on the subject “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality” is a must read.

  • Charli Girl

    O h sure thats NO surprise! Women IN GENERAL were always a second thought….Sure glad I’m in the world TO PUT AN END TO THAT!!!! Lol

  • Taliaferro

    This is one book that FOX will not cover. Those fossils don’t ever admit they were wrong about something – same goes for Limbaugh, Rand Paul, Mr. Frothy Mix and all others of their ilk.

  • Jim Hlavac

    You write: “which as a social construct is relatively new (the love that dared not speak its name went unnamed until the late 19th century)”

    Absolute nonsense — every language has had a word for sissy or gay or queer in some form for millennia — meanwhile, the word “gai” entered English with Eleanor of Aquitaine — since in her lands the terms “gai troubadour” and “gai saber” were commonly used to refer to single never married men who were entertainers and allowed to wear gaudy rainbow colored clothing —

    Then too, both Michaelangelo and DaVinci were running gay bars in their artists studios and everyone talked about it. Not to mention the known discussion of Edward II’s gayness (see Braveheart, cultural maven) and well, the whole idea that gayness is a new thing and there was no word for it before “homosexual” is absurd.

  • sfqtcguy

    Allow me to forgive the above mentioned errata and say that, if true, this so awesome! And ordained by the Christian church no less. Note that we do have several Christian churches in SF that support this as well, along with gays and women in the clergy and other such innovations. I wonder what research will reveal on these and many other subjects the religious right call new and dangerous.

  • scoobydube

    @Taliaferro: @Taliaferro: I would venture to say that FAUX News has MORE gays within THAT organization then that of the MSM. It’s a LOT easier to ‘hide’ in a prehistoric organization then within an ‘open’ one…

  • Dan

    For sure, it is true. Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to what is now Istanbul and called the city, “Constantinople” in his own honor but his most famous claim to fame of course is when he decided to adopt Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire. The only problem was that as Pagan’s, Romans had loved many of the Pagan traditions and one of them was this thing called “The Trilogy”. (This all happened around 390 A.D.E.). Emperor Constantine told the Catholic leaders that he wanted the trilogy to be added to the Christian Bible. Church leaders balked and challenged him and refused to agree; there had always only been one God, like Judaism and Islam. In order to force the Christian leaders to comply, he arrested many of them and since he knew they were openly gay, he extolled the parts of the Bible against homosexuality and even had those portions of the Bible edited to further and better persecute homosexuals in the name of God. It is Emperor Constantine and his adoption of the Pagan ideal of the Trilogy into Christianity which modern homosexuals have to thank for all of the hate and persecution in the name of God. Because of an ancient Roman Emperor, Emperor Constantine, Matthew Shephard is dead, gay people and gay youth commit suicide and the degradation of millions of good people around the globe continues to this day.

  • DB

    The Bible is clear that same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage are the same to God. “There is neither male nor female, there is no Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, you are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28). God does not discriminate against His children on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, class, ethnicity, etc. Indeed, Jesus taught the values of love, non-judgmentalism, generosity, and helping those, such as gay people, who are persecuted by sinful human society. God created gay people and God does not make mistakes. Any true Christian would recognize that God views gay love as an unconditional positive and gay families as no different from heterosexual families. The Episcopal Church the United Church of Christ, the Lutherans, the Quakers, the Disciples of Christ, and most other mainstream Christian churches do now recognize gay Christian marriage – hopefully Roman Catholicism and Evangelical denominations will soon follow suit.

  • Drewster

    @Jim Hlavac: I hate to point out your error, but it was “Taboos against homosexuality” that is “relatively new”, not homosexuality. Your comment actually agrees with the author!

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