Howdy from south Florida

I plan to spend the next three weeks wearing nothing more formal than sandals and shorts (which is typical of me when I have the option). About the only drawback I've seen about living in San Francisco is that for a large portion of the year, you have to wear a jacket everywhere.

But on to the topic of the day--more on same-sex marriage. This is an old opinion piece from the Irish Times by Jim Duffy that deals with a book written by the late Yale Professor John Boswell. Let me put this disclaimer on this post right up front--I've not read Boswell's book and I'm certainly no expert on the liturgy of the medieval Catholic Church, so realize that I'm working with a very limited set of facts here and I'm going to make a rhetorical leap or two.

That said--Duffy and Boswell lay out a fairly persuasive case that the church has had a, well, malleable viewpoint of same-sex relationships over the years.

Contrary to myth, Christianity's concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has evolved both as a concept and as a ritual. Prof Boswell discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient church liturgical documents (and clearly separate from other types of non-marital blessings such as blessings of adopted children or land) were ceremonies called, among other titles, the "Office of Same Sex Union" (10th and 11th century Greek) or the "Order for Uniting Two Men" (11th and 12th century).

These ceremonies had all the contemporary symbols of a marriage: a community gathered in church, a blessing of the couple before the altar, their right hands joined as at heterosexual marriages, the participation of a priest, the taking of the Eucharist, a wedding banquet afterwards. All of which are shown in contemporary drawings of the same sex union of Byzantine Emperor Basil I (867-886) and his companion John. Such homosexual unions also took place in Ireland in the late 12th/early 13th century, as the chronicler Gerald of Wales (Geraldus Cambrensis) has recorded.

I've tried to find some sources that would contradict Boswell's claims directly. This review of Boswell's book by Gerald Bray, Anglican professor of divinity at Samford University's Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Alabama argues that Boswell's gay marriage rites were actually an affirmation of friendship, a "ritual brotherhood," and thinks that this only seems strange because of the way that male-female relationships have changed over the past centuries.
A little thought will remind us that virtually every creative activity in human history, other than physical reproduction, has been the product of same-sex friendship, manifested in different ways among women as well as men. It is when people get together in such friendships and share ideas that things start to happen. Unfortunately, the radical wing of the feminist movement has made the destruction of male society a specific policy goal. In this context, the linkage of male friendship with homosexuality is tragic, because it deprives men of the rationale they need to resist the feminist onslaught. By seeking to further this identification, Boswell is contributing to the destruction of Western culture because he cannot appreciate same-sex friendship, which he rightly regards as potentially very deep and very significant for society as a whole, in nonsexual terms. Turning friendship into marriage is just as mistaken as turning marriage into friendship; categories are confused, and both suffer as a result.

Now I have to admit, I've never heard the argument that marriage and friendship were meant to be two separate types of relationships, but that is what's being argued here. Ultimately, however, Bray doesn't disprove Boswell's thesis. He argues that Boswell is trying to interpret ancient liturgies through gay-colored glasses, without taking into account the different social structures of the times. One could make the same argument about Bray.
So here's my question. Why hasn't there been more written on this subject? No one seems to have either followed up on Boswell's work or taken up the task of disproving him. The opinion piece I quoted above dates back to 1998 and Bray's criticism dates back to 1994. Surely there has to have been more work done on this in the last 6-10 years. Had Boswell's theories been discredited, surely there would have been some outcry from the traditional sources, and had it been affirmed, same-sex marriage advocates would be flourishing it about. Or maybe the answer is just that, as many have been saying ever since Mayor Newsom threw this into the spotlight a few weeks ago, marriage is an institution that has been malleable over the years and this is going to be the newest incarnation.

Newer Post Older Post Home