Sunday, May 13, 2012

Recent disinformation about so-called gay marriage in the early Church

Recently, some hokum has been making the rounds of the Intertubes suggesting that, in the early days of the Church, gay marriage was not just recognized, but sanctioned and blessed.

The evidence ranges from circumstantial to falsified.

I won't add too much to the discussion here; the heavy lifting has already been done by Jimmy Akin and Mark Shea, who in turn cite more detailed articles that debunked the source of the "ancient gay marriage" myth when it came out almost twenty years ago:  a book written by John Boswell, late professor of history at Yale, which (except in that it claimed to be honest history instead of claiming to be a novel full of historical facts) is The DaVinci Code of gay marriage--something appealing only to those whose itching ears can only be satisfied by the hope that such scandalous ideas are true.

One of the articles--I won't link it, but you can get there from Mark's and Jimmy's sites if you really want--that has resurrected this notion attempts to describe the ritual as a wedding mass:  hands joined, vows and blessings made, followed by the Eucharist and a celebratory feast.

Um, hello?  It's a religious ceremony; of course there will be blessings.  Vows?  Could be marriage, could be joining a religious order or the priesthood, could even be one of the other sacraments, or something else completely.  They're Catholics/Orthodox; of course there will be the Eucharist during and a celebratory feast after.  If it were a wedding in an eastern church, there also would have been a crowning, but instead of that we only have this reference to holding hands.  

Well, that and bald assertions, like "While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, homophobic writings didn’t appear in Western Europe until the late 14th century. Even then, church-consecrated same sex unions continued to take place."  I guess Paul's allusions to Sodom don't count, since he technically wrote in Judea for the most part rather than Western Europe, but "gay marriage kept going on under the radar" is assuming the conclusion.

Maybe Boswell would have done well to consider the "current events" side of history before finding a publisher, see what modern trends and activities linger that are descended from practices of the time period of interest.  Maybe he would have been surprised to learn that this adelphopoiesis still goes on, or maybe he only would have been disappointed, instead, to learn that it is a blessing of friendships, not of romantic relationships.

It's sad in many ways.  The word used to describe a fraternal relationship between men is adelphopoiesis, which anyone familiar with the largest city in Pennsylvania would be literate enough to recognize as something other than eros, despite Boswell's insistence on translating it as "Office of the Same Sex Union."  Ah, but is it maybe a euphemism, or a misunderstanding arising from blind homophobia?  Okay, then where's the talk about gay sons pooling their inheritances?  Where's the talk of them adopting successors to continue the family name or business?  Where are the references to mundane relationships based on brotherly love?  How are we to know the difference?  Surely not so much time has passed that I am the last person to remember friendships between members of the same sex being understandably described without the use of terms like "man-crush" and "bromance," without even needing to be qualified with the word "platonic"--after all, I'm only middle aged.

But maybe, if a "bromance" is just "the kind of gay relationship that nominally straight men are comfortable having," then there is no meaningful difference between a friendship and a "relationship," and if these two things are distinguished despite having no differences, then one might argue that gay marriage is also distinct from traditional marriage for no good contemporary reason, for no real difference.

Maybe that's just what they want.