Same-Sex "Marriage": Should America Allow "Gay Rights" Activists to Cross The Last Cultural Frontier?

Anton N. Marco

Copyright 1996-2006, Christian Leadership Ministries


Appendix A:
A brief commentary on John Boswell's
Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe,
(New York: Villard Books, 1994)

In his book, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, John Boswell, a self-avowedly "gay" activist and historian, employs considerable intellectual legerdemain, purporting to "discover" in Premodern European documents "evidence" that at that time both Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches sanctioned same-gender, sexual relationships, recognizing these as equivalent to marriages.

To establish this thesis, Boswell examines the texts of ceremonies giving church imprimatur to lay spiritual brotherhoods, compares these with Premodern European marriage ceremonies. Boswell then implies that close parallels strongly suggest the Churches recognized and made special allowances for some forms of spiritually commendable, same-gender sexual unions.

However, in terms of both Boswell's presuppositions and his documentary evidence, we believe persuasive reasons can be advanced to cast doubt on his conclusions.

First, Boswell conveniently frames his definition of "marriage" to best suit his case. In fact, he reduces his definition to "a permanent emotional union acknowledged in some way by the community." This definition, similiar to those given by Andrew Sullivan and other "gay" theorists whose work we have reviewed earlier, is so vague it could include a father/son or mother/daughter relationship, or a gay/lesbian "chosen family" arrangement.

Boswell portrays Premodern European "traditional" marriages as predominantly emotionally lifeless, loveless, materialistic arrangements. In so doing, he prepares to make the same-sex "unions" he wishes to highlight and claim were homosexual seem more noble, even superior to "traditional," heterosexual marriages contracted then. While so doing, he completely ignores the Churches' biblically "orthodox" teachings about the necessity that fervent love and affection characterize all Christian marriage relationships.

Second, Boswell devotes considerable space to discussing marital infidelity and incidences of homosexuality during carefully-chosen (by Boswell), decadent phases of Greek, Roman and other societies. He seems to imply that if sexual decadence has ever prevailed historically, we should not be surprised to discover that Premodern European Churches "also" found it necessary to make allowances for same-gender sexual unions.

Prefacing and supposedly supporting his key documentation, Boswell recounts the history of "Serge" and "Bacchus," two revered Greek Orthodox saints who shared a strong spiritual bond and together suffered martyrdom for refusing to deny their faith in Christ.

Boswell then analyzes several church ceremonies acknowledging unions "in the spirit" of Serge and Bacchus between lay Christian "brothers." That these ceremonies existed, Boswell asserts, strongly signifies that the unions recognized were "probably, sometimes" sexual.

However, the stories about Serge and Bacchus and their martyrdom contain no hint of these two saints' having shared a same-gender sexual relationship, and it is doubtful that anyone not looking for the presence of a sexual relationship (as Boswell seems to have been) would "find" it in those accounts.

Attempting further to shore up his case, Boswell wanders through "gay theology's"{256} usual liturgy of supposed biblical "homosexual" relationships (i.e., David/Jonathan, Ruth/Naomi, Jesus/John the Divine, etc.). Again, one would have to read Scripture with gay activists� or "gay theologians�" foregone conclusions in mind to conclude that relationships like these were "sexual."

Boswell describes (and later in an Appendix quotes in full) a "Serge/Bacchus"-modelled ceremony recognizing a spiritual brotherhood between two laymen covenanted to engage in a religious quest of some difficulty.

Boswell argues that the relationship being celebrated must have been "sexual," because the ceremony was prohibited to monks, though not to the laity. However, Boswell neglects to mention that monks were already considered spiritual "brothers." This ceremony recognized a lay spiritual brotherhood, thus requiring a special ritual applicable only to the laity.

Significantly, the very ceremony Boswell uses most assiduously to support his claim refers to Serge and Bacchus, the prototypes of this kind of union, as being "in two bodies/one soul and heart/one will and virtue."

To anyone familiar with the schema of Christian orthodox theology regarding marriage and sexuality, this kind of terminology quite pointedly excludes the notion that Serge's and Bacchus' was a physical and sexual union. In the Churches' view, only married couples were considered "one body," by virtue of their physical union sanctioned in marriage. By no stretch of impartial imagination is the ceremony Boswell quotes sanctioning a same-gender "sexual" relationship.

Another ceremony Boswell cites as "evidence" describes in great detail the bond of same-gender unity -- and the kind of love -- being recognized. At one point this "love" is pointedly described as being of the sort that saved Lot from the Sodomites (see The Holy Bible, Genesis 19) -- a highly unlikely mention if the love being spoken of were designed to sanction the physical union of "sodomy" itself. In fact, to any reasonable reader, this reference seems to be sending a clear and unmistakable signal that the kind of relationship being described was categorically non-homosexual.

(In a footnote (p. 293), Boswell says of "sodomy": "Not understood by Jews or Christians of the Middle Ages as a reference to homosexual love" -- another highly dubious assertion in light of Christian orthodox theology of the times.)

Still another ceremony recognizing same-sex unions Boswell cites states that the individuals to be united will be joined "not by nature but by faith." This also is clear "code language" leaving no doubt that the relationship being celebrated was spiritually, not physically, based.

Boswell cites several contemporary Premodern European marriage ceremonies, attempting to "prove" similarities between the same-gender-union ceremonies he has described earlier. However, close comparison of these types of ceremonies reveals that (1) no same-sex union is ever referred to as a "marriage"; (2) no documentation evidently exists supporting the notion that the Churches ever recognized female same-gender unions -- documentation one might expect to discover if the Churches were indeed inclined to smile upon same-gender, marriage-equivalent sexual relationships.

(3) None of the same-gender union ceremonies Boswell cites contains a single reference to physical union or the marriage bed, though such references are present in every ceremony he quotes that indisputably unites people in marriage.

Clearly, the two kinds of ceremonies Boswell cites depict utterly different sorts of "unions" � lay "spiritual," non-sexual unions, and marriage unions clearly including sexual bodily joining. And the closer the comparisons one makes, the bolder the relief in which these differences appear. In fact, observed from the perspective of "traditional" Christian belief and practice, the very evidence Boswell presents to make his case serves only to refute his "findings."

"Gay rights" opponents examining Boswell's work supposedly "proving" the historical existence of Premodern European same-gender "marriages" will find but shallow, specious and misleading arguments to contend with in his book -- though we doubt that Boswell's thesis' lack of foundation will discourage either gay activists or the popular hyper-liberal media from touting his "discovery" of Premodern European same-sex "marriages" as "gospel truth."


{256}See Marco, Anton N., "Gay Theology and "Gay Rights": "Biblical Bedfellows" Or Unholy Alliance?, at Christian Leadership Ministries Internet website, address: http://www./

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