Same-sex marriages sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church, right up to the 14th Century? Tell that to the Papal See, and to the religious fundamentalists. An exuberant homosexuality embedded in traditional religion which upset no-one? Tell that to the Bush administration. Today's "moral leaders" who are threatening to institutionalise discrimination in our churches and even in the U.S. Constitution are, to my mind, hypocrites by virtue of forgetting their own religious tradition's past.
I have just come across a book, published in 1994 called, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, by John Boswell, It's scholarly history presenting solid documentary evidence that same-sex union ceremonies, suppressed since the 14th Century, were once common in the Roman Catholic Church. This book demonstrates the astonishing elasticity with which sexual roles were viewed by Christians throughout the first millennium of Church history.
Most Westerners today assume that same-sex attraction is incompatible with deep spiritual practice or social stability, despite the fact than all three have coexisted in the experience of millions throughout history.
And yet, most people today, including most gay people, assume the gay rights movement is asking for something new when it asks for equal treatment. It isn't. In most non-Western cultures and in premodern Europe, homosexual behaviour was considered completely normal and was publicly and openly accepted.
We have a perspective of deeply ingrained homophobia, so it's difficult to appreciate that it wasn't always so. Homosexuality was idolised in the ancient world as the natural sexual preference of the macho male. Alexander the Great, hardly a sissy, openly had a male as a consort. The same is true of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, one of Rome's greatest generals, and Julius Caesar who was known in Rome as "every man's wife and every woman's husband."
The association between a warrior's passion and homosexual love was institutionalised in Sparta, the most military of the Greek city states. In Sparta, it was expected that a soldier had a male lover. Perhaps the most admired military organisation in the Greek world was The Sacred Band of Thebes. It was formed exclusively by pairs of male lovers, under the theory proposed by Plato that a man fighting by the side of his lover would be the most valiant of warriors.
Greek and Roman citizens also included homosexual behaviour in their repertoire of experience. Marriages, in the ancient world, were in large part for the inheritance of property. It was assumed that men would have another relationship for romantic love; frequently these relationships were with other men. Men often had a wife and a male lover. Plato was among such men.
What I found stunning - and encouraging - in this book was the realisation that homosexual conduct was considered normal down throughout the Middle Ages. This author has gone through church records across Europe and found what he calls same-sex unions were commonplace during the Middle Ages. Not only that, they were sanctified by the Catholic Church!
The ceremonies were exactly the same as Catholic heterosexual marriages of the time in all important particulars and were attended by friends and family and celebrated with banquets.
I think this is bloody brilliant!
But something shifted. Boswell notes: "From the 14th Century, Western Europe was gripped by a rabid and obsessive negative preoccupation with homosexuality as the most horrible of sins. Then reasons for this have never been adequately explained..."
So what happened? He believes we fell in love - blind, unbalanced, mad love - with "reason," and did not look at the consequences.