Gay marriage in the year 100 AD

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July 30, 2013
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Gay marriage sounds like an ultra-contemporary idea. But almost twenty years ago, a Catholic scholar at Yale shocked the world by publishing a book packed with evidence that same-sex marriages were sanctioned by the early Christian Church during an era commonly called the Dark Ages.

John Boswell was a historian and religious Catholic who dedicated much of his scholarly life to studying the late Roman Empire and early Christian Church. Poring over legal and church documents from this era, he discovered something incredible. 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.)

Bolstered by this evidence, Boswell published a book in 1994, the year before his death from AIDS, called Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. The book comes out next month for the first time in a digital edition. It was an instant lightening rod for controversy, drawing criticism from both the Catholic Church and sex pundit Camille Paglia. Given the Church's present-day views on gay marriage, these detractors argued, Boswell's history seemed like wishful thinking.

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But it wasn't. Boswell had actually begun his research back in the 1970s, and published an equally controversial work in 1980 calledChristianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. His Same-Sex Unions book refined and expanded a lot of what he'd learned over a lifetime of research into primary sources in scattered libraries and archives.