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History of same-sex unions

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This is a history of same-sex unions in cultures around the world. Various types of same-sex unions have existed, ranging from informal, unsanctioned, and temporary relationships to highly ritualized unions that have included marriage.[1] State-recognized same-sex unions have recently become more widely accepted, with various countries recognizing same-sex marriages or other types of unions. A celebrated achievement in LGBT history occurred when Queen Beatrix signed a law making Netherlands the first country to legalize same-sex marriage.[2]

Old World[edit]

Classical Europe, Middle East, and China[edit]

Emperor Nero is reported to have married at least two males in different occasions.

There is history of recorded same-sex unions around the world.[3] Various types of same-sex unions have existed, ranging from informal, unsanctioned relationships to highly ritualized unions.

Same-sex unions were known in Ancient Greece and Rome,[3] ancient Mesopotamia,[4] in some regions of China, such as Fujian province, and at certain times in ancient European history.[5]

Same sex unions were recognized in Mesopotamia. The Almanac of Incantations from the Babylonian period contained prayers favoring on an equal basis the love of a man for a woman and of a man for man.[6]

In the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, during the Ming dynasty period, females would bind themselves in contracts to younger females in elaborate ceremonies.[7]: 178  Males also entered similar arrangements. This type of arrangement was also similar in ancient European history.[7]

An example of egalitarian male domestic partnership from the early Zhou dynasty period of China is recorded in the story of Pan Zhang & Wang Zhongxian. While the relationship was clearly approved by the wider community, and was compared to heterosexual marriage, it did not involve a religious ceremony binding the couple.[8]

Some early Western societies integrated same-sex relationships. The practice of same-sex love in ancient Greece often took the form of pederasty, which was limited in duration and in many cases co-existed with marriage.[9] Documented cases in this region claimed these unions were temporary pederastic relationships.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16] The Sacred Band of Thebes was so called because the male couples that formed it exchanged sacred vows between lover and beloved at the shrine of Iolaus, beloved of Heracles.[17] These unions created a moral dilemma for the Greeks and were not universally accepted.[18]

In Hellenic Greece, the pederastic relationships between Greek men (erastes) and youths (eromenos) were similar to marriage in that the age of the youth was similar to the age at which women married (the mid-teens, though in some city states, as young as age seven), and the relationship could only be undertaken with the consent of the father.[citation needed] This consent, just as in the case of a daughter's marriage, was contingent on the suitor's social standing. The relationship consisted of very specific social and religious responsibilities and also had a sexual component. Unlike marriage, however, a pederastic relation was temporary and ended when the boy turned seventeen.

At the same time, many of these relationships might be more clearly understood as mentoring relationships between adult men and young boys rather than an analog of marriage. This is particularly true in the case of Sparta, where the relationship was intended to further a young boy's military training. While the relationship was generally lifelong and of profound emotional significance to the participants, it was not considered marriage by contemporary culture, and the relationship continued even after participants reached age 20 and married women, as was expected in the culture.[citation needed]

Numerous examples of same sex unions among peers, not age-structured, are found in Ancient Greek writings. Famous Greek couples in same sex relationships include Harmodius and Aristogiton, Alexander and Hephaestion, Agathon and Pausanias, and the aforementioned Sacred Band of Thebes. However, in none of these same sex unions is the Greek word for "marriage" ever mentioned. The Romans appear to have been the first to perform same sex marriages.

At least two of the Roman Emperors were in same-sex unions; and in fact, thirteen out of the first fourteen Roman Emperors are held to have been bisexual or exclusively homosexual.[19] The first Roman emperor to have married a man was Nero, who is reported to have married two other men on different occasions. First with one of his freedman, Pythagoras, to whom Nero took the role of the bride. Later Nero married a young boy named Sporus to replace his young teenage concubine whom he had killed.[20] They married in a very public ceremony with all the solemnities of matrimony, and lived with him as his spouse. A friend gave the "bride" away "as required by law." The marriage was celebrated separately in both Greece and Rome in extravagant public ceremonies.[20] The Child Emperor Elagabalus referred to his chariot driver, a blond slave from Caria named Hierocles, as his husband.[21] He also married an athlete named Zoticus in a lavish public ceremony in Rome amidst the rejoicings of the citizens.[22][23]

There are records of same-sex marriage dating back to the first century A.D. Nero was the first, though there is no legal provision for this in Roman Law, and it was banned in the Roman Empire in a law from 342 A.D. The text, however, is corrupt. "Marries a woman" nubit feminam might be cubit infamen "goes to bed in a dishonorable manner with a man" as a condemnation of homosexual behavior between men.[24]

Conubium existed only between a civis Romanus and a civis Romana (that is, between a male Roman citizen and a female Roman citizen), so that a marriage between two Roman males (or with a slave) would have no legal standing in Roman law (apart, presumably, from the arbitrary will of the emperor in the two aforementioned cases).[25]

Same-sex marriage was outlawed on December 16, 342 AD by the Christian emperors Constantius II and Constans. This law specifically outlaws marriages between men and reads as follows:

When a man “marries” in the manner of a woman, a “woman” about to renounce men, what does he wish, when sex has lost its significance; when the crime is one which it is not profitable to know; when Venus is changed into another form; when love is sought and not found? We order the statutes to arise, the laws to be armed with an avenging sword, that those infamous persons who are now, or who hereafter may be, guilty may be subjected to exquisite punishment. (Theodosian Code 9.7.3) [26]

According to Robin Lane Fox, among the unusual customs of the isolated oasis of Siwa (now Egypt, once Libya), one of great antiquity which survived to the 20th century was male homosexuality and same-sex marriage.[27]

Policy of the early Christian Church and Middle Ages[edit]

As did other philosophies and religions of the time,[28] increasingly influential Christianity promoted marriage for procreative purposes. The teachings of the Talmud and Torah, and the Bible, were seen as specifically prohibiting the practices as contrary to nature and the will of the Creator, and a moral shortcoming. Even after the passing of the Theodosian code the Christian emperors continued to collect taxes on male prostitutes until the reign of Anastasius (491–518). In the year 390, the Christian emperors Valentinian II, Theodoisus and Arcadius declared homosexual sex to be illegal and those who were guilty of it were condemned to be burned alive in front of the public.[29] The Christian Emperor Justinian (527–565) made homosexuals a scapegoat for problems such as "famines, earthquakes, and pestilences."[30] While homosexuality was tolerated in pre-Christian Rome, it was still nonetheless controversial. For example, arguments against same-sex relationships were included in Plutarch's Moralia.[31]

In pre-Christian Rome and Greece, there had been some debate on which form of sexuality was preferable. While many people seemed to not oppose bisexuality, there were those who preferred to be exclusively heterosexual or homosexual. For example, a debate between homosexual and heterosexual love was included in Plutarch's Moralia.[31]

Historian John Boswell claimed the 4th century Christian martyrs Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus were united in the ritual of adelphopoiesis, which he calls an early form of religious same-sex marriage.

After the Middle Ages in Europe, same-sex relationships were increasingly frowned upon and banned in many countries by the Church or the state. Nevertheless, Historian John Boswell argued that Adelphopoiesis, or brother-making, represented an early form of religious same-sex marriage in the Orthodox church.[32] (However, the historicity of this interpretation is contested by the Greek Orthodox Church[citation needed], and Boswell's scholarship critiqued as being of dubious quality by theologian Robin Darling Young.[33]) Alan Bray saw the rite of Ordo ad fratres faciendum ("Order for the making of brothers") as serving the same purpose in the medieval Roman Catholic Church.

In late medieval France, it is possible the practice of entering a legal contract of "embrotherment" (affrèrement) provided a vehicle for civil unions between unrelated male adults who pledged to live together sharing ‘un pain, un vin, et une bourse’ – one bread, one wine, and one purse. This legal category may represent one of the earliest forms of sanctioned same-sex unions.[34]

The Catholic Church has always maintained that marriage (also called Holy Matrimony) is a Sacrament instituted by Christ, between a baptized man and a baptized woman.[35]

A same-sex marriage between the two men Pedro Díaz and Muño Vandilaz in the Galician municipality of Rairiz de Veiga in Spain occurred on 16 April 1061. They were married by a priest at a small chapel. The historic documents about the church wedding were found at Monastery of San Salvador de Celanova.[36] Critics have argued that the union was simply an Adelphopoiesis, a ceremony of spiritual siblinghood.[37]

Early-modern Period[edit]

Michel de Montaigne, a 16th-century French philosopher and prominent essayist, reports having heard a third-party description of a same-sex wedding occurring some years earlier using the usual Tridentine marriage ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church. The ceremony was said to have occurred a few years before 1581, at the San Giovanni a Porta Latina basilica in Rome and the participants were burned at the stake by the Vatican.[38][39] Some scholars say this was simply an adelphopoiesis, or union of siblinghood.[40][41] The Boxer Codex, dated 1590 or earlier, records the normality and acceptance of same-sex marriage in the native cultures of the Philippines prior to Spanish colonization.[42]

In 1680, Arabella Hunt married Amy Poulter who disguised herself as a man at St Marylebone Parish Church.[43] In 1781, Jens Andersson of Norway, assigned female at birth but identifying as male, was imprisoned and put on trial after marrying Anne Kristine Mortensdotter in a Lutheran church. When asked about his gender, the response was “Hand troer at kunde henhøre til begge Deele” (“He believes he belongs to both”).[44]

Anne Lister, dubbed "the first modern lesbian", married Ann Walker at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York in 1834.[45][46]

Modern times[edit]

LGBT flag on the Westerkerk of Amsterdam, where Gert Kasteel and Dolf Pasker celebrated their 20th anniversary.[47]

In the 20th and 21st centuries various types of same-sex unions have come to be legalized. As of September 2022, same-sex marriage is currently legal in nineteen European countries: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (England, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales).

Other types of recognition for same-sex unions (civil unions or registered partnerships) are, as of September 2022, legal in additional eleven European countries: Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Montenegro and San Marino .

A referendum to change the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland to allow same sex marriage took place on 22 May 2015 and approved the proposal to add the following declaration to the Constitution: "marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex".[48]

The Americas[edit]

Ancient times[edit]

In North America, among the Native Americans societies, homosexuality existed and some have asserted that same-sex unions have taken place with persons known as Two-Spirit types, but no documentation or evidence of same-sex marriage exists. “In many tribes, individuals who entered into same-sex relationships were considered holy and treated with utmost respect and acceptance," according to anthropologist Brian Gilley.[49]

Modern times[edit]

On July 20, 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world and the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide with the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act which provided a gender-neutral marriage definition.[50][51] Court decisions, starting in 2003, each already legalized same-sex marriage in eight out of ten provinces and one of three territories, whose residents comprised about 90% of Canada's population. Before passage of the Act, more than 3,000 same-sex couples had already married in those areas. Most legal benefits commonly associated with marriage had been extended to cohabiting same-sex couples since 1999.

In the United States during the 19th century, there was recognition of the relationship of two women making a long-term commitment to each other and cohabitating, referred to at the time as a Boston marriage; however, the general public at the time likely did not assume that sexual activities were part of the relationship.[52]

Jack Baker and Michael McConnell were married to each other in 1971 and received a marriage license from Blue Earth County, Minnesota. Rev. Roger Lynn, a minister from the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, validated their marriage. They have lived together openly as a married couple for more than five decades.[53]

Rev. Troy Perry performed the first public gay wedding in the United States in 1968, but it was not legally recognized,[54][55] and in 1970, Metropolitan Community Church filed the first-ever lawsuit seeking legal recognition of same-sex marriages. The lawsuit was not successful.[55] In March 2005, two Unitarian Universalist ministers Kay Greenleaf and Dawn Sangrey were charged with multiple counts of solemnizing a marriage without a license in the State of New York. The charges were the first brought against clergy for performing same-sex unions in North America, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based gay rights group.[56]

The earliest use of the phrase "commitment ceremony" as an alternative term for "gay wedding" appears to be by Bill Woods who, in 1990, tried to organize a mass "commitment ceremony" for Hawaii's first gay pride parade. Similarly, Reverend Jimmy Creech of the First United Methodist Church performed his first "commitment ceremony" of a same-sex couple in 1990 in North Carolina. In January, 1987, Morningside Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends became the first Quaker Meeting to take a same-sex marriage (using the word marriage, rather than "commitment ceremony") under its care with the marriage of Reyson Ame and William McCann on May 30, 1987.[57] Although several other Meetings held "Ceremonies of Commitment", Morningside was the first to refer to the relationship as a marriage and afford it equal status. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that marriage is a fundamental right and must be extended to same-sex couples.[58]

Names for the registered, formal, or solemnized combination of same-sex partners have included "domestic partnership", "civil union", "marriage", "registered partnership", "reciprocal beneficiary", and "same-sex union".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lahey, Kathleen A.; Alderson, Kevin (2004). Same-Sex Marriage. Insomniac Press. pp. 15–16. ISBN 9781897414989.
  2. ^ Homosexuality and the Law: A Dictionary. Abc-Clio. 2001. ISBN 9781576072677.
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  7. ^ a b Hinsch, Bret (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Tradition in China. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-07869-7.
  8. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 24–25
  9. ^ Eskridge, William N. (October 1993). "A History of Same-Sex Marriage". Virginia Law Review. 79 (7): 1419–1513. doi:10.2307/1073379. JSTOR 1073379.
  10. ^ Bruce L. Gerig, "Homosexuality in the Ancient Near East, beyond Egypt", in HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE BIBLE, Supplement 11A, 2005
  11. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.67–85
  12. ^ Arié, Rachel. España musulmana (Siglos VIII-XV) in Historia de España, ed. Manuel Tuñón de Lara, III. Barcelona: Labor, 1984.
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  14. ^ Guido Ruggiero, The Boundaries of Eros: Sex Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice, Oxford, 1985
  15. ^ "ENGLISH.GAY.RU - 1600-1861: Traditional Masculinities And Love Between Men". english.gay.ru.
  16. ^ T. Watanabe & J. Iwata, The Love of the Samurai: A Thousand Years of Japanese Homosexuality, London: GMP Publishers, 1987
  17. ^ James G. DeVoto (1992). "The Theban Sacred Band". The Ancient World. 23 (2): 3–19.
  18. ^ Hubbard, T. K. (Spring–Summer 1998). "Popular Perceptions of Elite Homosexuality in Classical Athens". Arion. 6 (1). Pederasty was an ethical crux for the Greeks, even as homosexuality in general is an ethical and political crux in the present day. Its practitioners were often apologetic, its opponents censorious or derisive.
  19. ^ Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 35–36.
  20. ^ a b Cassius Dio. "Roman History - Epitome of Book LXII". Retrieved 2 April 2021. Nero missed her so greatly after her death that on learning of a woman who resembled her he at first sent for her and kept her; but later he caused a boy of the freedmen, whom he used to call Sporus,...he formally "married" Sporus, and assigned the boy a regular dowry according to contract
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  22. ^ Cassius Dio. "Roman History - Epitome of Book LXXX". University of Chicago. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
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  24. ^ Eidolon, 2015, Michael Fontaine, Associate Professor of Classics and Assistant Dean, Cornell University "the Law does not provide for it."
  25. ^ Corbett, The Roman Law of Marriage (Oxford, 1969), pp. 24–28; Treggiari, Roman Marriage (Oxford, 1991), pp. 43–49.; "Marriages where the partners had conubium were marriages valid in Roman law (iusta matrimonia)" [Treggiari, p. 49]. Compare Ulpian (Tituli Ulpiani 5.3–5:) "Conubium is the capacity to marry a wife in Roman law. Roman citizens have conubium with Roman citizens, but with Latins and foreigners only if the privilege was granted. There is no conubium with slaves"; compare also Gaius (Institutionum 1:55–56, 67, 76–80).
  26. ^ Pharr, 1952: 232-233
  27. ^ Alexander the Great, Robin Lane Fox, Allen Lane 1973/ Penguin 1986-2004, p 207
  28. ^ Eskridge, William N. (October 1993). "A History of Same-Sex Marriage". Virginia Law Review. 79 (7): 1419–1513. doi:10.2307/1073379. JSTOR 1073379. But other, non-Christian traditions in Roman society—Stoicism, Neo-Platonism and Manicheanism—similarly urged that "intercourse was supposed to take place only so as to produce children. The couple must not make love for the sake of pleasure alone."
  29. ^ (Theodosian Code 9.7.6): All persons who have the shameful custom of condemning a man's body, acting the part of a woman's to the sufferance of alien sex (for they appear not to be different from women), shall expiate a crime of this kind in avenging flames in the sight of the people.
  30. ^ Justinian Novels 77, 144
  31. ^ a b Eskridge, William N. (October 1993). "A History of Same-Sex Marriage". Virginia Law Review. 79 (7): 1419–1513. doi:10.2307/1073379. JSTOR 1073379. While the statute [that prohibited same-sex marriage in ancient Rome] reinforces the impression that same-sex marriages were not uncommon in the Roman Empire, it also evidences an anxiety about same-sex unions that antedated the 4th century. At the end of the 2nd century, for example, Plutarch's Moralia included a dialogue filled with invective both for and against same-sex relationships, suggesting that their propriety was a matter of some controversy. A subsequent anonymous dialogue entitled Affairs of the Heart was sympathetic to same-sex relationships but sharply distinguished them from marriage.
  32. ^ Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994), Villard Books, ISBN 0-679-43228-0
  33. ^ Young, Robin Darling (November 1994). "Gay Marriage: Reimagining Church History". First Things (47): 43–48.
  34. ^ Tulchin, Allan (September 2007). "Same-Sex Couples Creating Households in Old Regime France: The Uses of the Affrèrement". Journal of Modern History. 79 (3): 613–647. doi:10.1086/517983. S2CID 92980933. Retrieved 7 August 2007.
  35. ^ "Code of Canon Law - IntraText". www.vatican.va.
  36. ^ Carlos Callón. "Callón gaña o Vicente Risco de Ciencias Sociais cun ensaio sobre a homosexualidade na Idade Media" (in Galician). Archived from the original on 5 March 2011. Retrieved 1 March 2011.
  37. ^ "Pedro y Muño, la primera boda gay en España... En el año 1061". 18 November 2020.
  38. ^ "Gay Marriage in Montaigne". Archived from the original on 5 December 1998. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  39. ^ Cassell's Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol, and Spirit: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Lore. Cassell. 1997. ISBN 9780304337606.
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  42. ^ George Bryan Souza. The Boxer Codex: Transcription and Translation of an Illustrated Late Sixteenth-Century Spanish Manuscript Concerning the Geography, History and ... (European Expansion and Indigenous Response) Annotated Edition. Brill; Annotated edition (November 20, 2015)
  43. ^ Peakman, J. (2013). The Pleasure's All Mine: A History of Perverse Sex. Reaktion Books. p. 121. ISBN 978-1-78023-203-4. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
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  45. ^ Roulston, Chris (2013). "The Revolting Anne Lister: The U.K.'s First Modern Lesbian". Journal of Lesbian Studies. 17 (3–4): 267–268. doi:10.1080/10894160.2013.731866. PMID 23855940. S2CID 3058406.
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  47. ^ "20 jaar Homohuwelijk: Trouwen voor iedereen! - YouTube". YouTube. 3 April 2021.
  48. ^ "Wording of same-sex marriage referendum published". RTÉ.ie. 21 January 2015.
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  52. ^ Gardner, Carol Brooks. 2009. Boston marriages. In Jodi O'Brien, ed., Encyclopedia of gender and society, v. 2. SAGE Publications. pp. 87–88.
  53. ^ Michael McConnell, with Jack Baker, as told to Gail Langer Karwoski, "The Wedding Heard Heard 'Round the World: America's First Gay Marriage". University of Minnesota Press (2016). Reprint, "With A New Epilogue" (2020).
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  58. ^ "Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et al" (PDF). Supreme Court of the United States. 26 June 2015 [October 2014]. Retrieved 2 April 2021.