Same-sex unions in Christian churches were held as long ago as the Middle Ages, research shows.
Historians say the ceremonies included many of the acts involved in heterosexual marriages, with the whole community gathering in a church, the blessing of the couple before an altar and an exchange of holy vows.
A priest officiated in the taking of the Eucharist and there was a wedding feast for guests afterwards.
All of these elements are depicted in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First [867-886 AD] and his companion John, an article published on the I Heart Chaos blog this week says.
And Prof John Boswell, the late chairman of Yale University’s history department, found there were ceremonies called the Office of Same-Sex Union and the Order for Uniting Two Men in the 10th to 12th centuries.
The medievalist published Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century in 1980.
According to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies section of Yale University’s website, the controversial book argued that the modern Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality ‘departed from the tolerance and even celebration of homosexual love that had characterized the first millennium of the Church’s teachings’.
The research brings into perspective the debate raging in America over same-sex marriage after President Barack Obama announced that he now supports it.
The chronicler Gerald of Wales [‘Geraldus Cambrensis] recorded same-gender Christian unions taking place in Ireland in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.
An icon in a Kiev art museum [pictured above] shows two robed Christian martyrs, St Sergius and St Bacchus who some modern scholars believe were gay.
The image of the two men has a traditional Roman ‘pronubus’ [best man], in the image of Christ between them, apparently overseeing their wedding.
Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch [512 – 518 AD] explained that, ‘we should not separate in speech they [Sergius and Bacchus] who were joined in life.’
One Greek 13th century rite called the Order for Solemn Same-Sex Union, invoked St Serge and St Bacchus and called on God to ‘vouchsafe unto these, Thy servants [N and N], the grace to love one another and to abide without hate and not be the cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God, and all Thy saints’.
And the ceremony concluded with the words: ‘And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded.’
A 14th century Serbian Slavonic Office of the Same Sex Union involved the couple laying their right hands on a Bible while they had a crucifix placed in their left hands.
After kissing the Bible, they were then required to kiss each other and the priest gave them communion.
Records of Christian same-sex unions dating back to medieval times have been found around the world in places as far flung as the Vatican, St Petersburg and Istanbul.