Today, the Supreme Court ruled that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, thus effectively bringing marriage equality to every state in the Union. This made me fantasize about what it would be like to buy a newspaper (for proof), climb into my time machine, and travel back to 1997, where I would interrupt my mother in the middle of her I-don’t-care-if-you-like-women-but-no-one-needs-to-know-about-it speech, and tell her to kiss my ass. But we don’t have time machines yet, and I’m going to hazard a guess that we don’t have them in the future either because I don’t remember Elderly Me showing up waving a photo of the first gay president and First Husband. So in recognition of this wonderful, wonderful day, on which a ray of rainbow-colored hope has emerged to suggest that, as Allie Brosh would say, “Maybe everything isn’t hopeless bullshit,” I’ve decided to dedicate this Friday’s facts to the history of gay marriage.
|Image by Benson Cua from Wikimedia Commons.|
The history of same-sex marriage is one that is along as the history of civilization itself. Same-sex marriages existed in both ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. In Egypt, at least one same-sex couple was buried in a pharaonic tomb, suggesting that the couple enjoyed legal status. In Mesopotamia, which I might point out has been dubbed the cradle of civilization, same-sex marriages were well-documented and were just one of various so-called “non-traditional” forms of marriage practiced. Among some of the other forms was polyandry, the practice of marrying multiple husbands, which sounds like it could simultaneously be both the best and worst thing ever.
As most people know, same-sex unions were common in ancient Greece, where the most common form of the institution involved an older man and a younger boy. Scholars insist that these unions were mostly, ahem, educational in nature, with the older man acting as a teacher and the younger boy as a pupil. Such a relationship certainly didn’t end when the participants both married women, as they were expected to do.
Romans also practiced same-sex unions, and more than a dozen Roman emperors either played for both teams or were outright gay. No less than two Roman emperors are rather famously known for marrying men, including Nero and Elagabalus. At least one of Nero’s cronies, on being asked if he approved of the emperor’s choice of a teenaged eunuch as a spouse, declared, “You do well, Caesar, to seek the company of such wives. Would that your father had had the same ambition and had lived with a similar consort!” Because you know, then Nero wouldn’t have been born. Sick burn.
On the other side of the world, folks in ancient China were gay-marrying it up, too. History brings us the story of Pan Zhang and Wang Zhongxian, two Chinese men who fell in love at first sight and lived together as domestic partners for the rest of their lives thereafter. They were said to be as “affectionate as husband and wife, sharing the same coverlet and pillow with unbounded intimacy for one another.” Legend has it that the two men died simultaneously, and were buried at the peak of Mount Luofu by their grief-stricken neighbors. A tree sprang up from the grave, and its twigs grew wrapped around one another as if embracing.
According to controversial historian John Boswell, a form of same-sex marriage known as “brother-making” existed in premodern Europe, as detailed in his extremely dense tome Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. Boswell claims that the brother-making ceremony served as a form of religious same-sex marriage in the medieval Catholic Church.
|Saints Sergius and Bacchus were alleged participants.|
While church officials and theologians alike dispute this claim, there is some evidence to suggest that a similar practice did exist in late medieval France. Affrèrement, or “enbrotherment,” allowed two or more unrelated men to establish a household in which all members shared property jointly, as in a marriage, and became one another’s legal heirs. These contracts were entered into via public oath before a notary and witnesses, and while they may not always have been used to formalize a same-sex relationship, the parties involved “frequently testified that they entered into the contract because of their affection for one another.”
In 19th-century and early 20th-century America, a similar practice emerged among women who chose to live together as committed partners instead of taking husbands. These unions were known as Boston marriages. Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake entered into one of the better known Boston marriages. The couple was recognized by their families and community, and to some extent even by the law, as a married couple. They share a tombstone in Weybridge, Vermont.