Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Gay Marriage in History

There is a notion hanging about the marriage debate that marriage for gay couples is a recent invention, but accounts do exist of such unions being made throughout our discernable history. They are few and against the often hostile backdrop of our culture’s perspective, but they are there. Simply, to me, marriage is inevitable for most everyone. Most all are created with the nature that pulls us to couple, many to lifelong monogamy, and gays are no exception, even though such unions for gay couples have been greatly undermined by social and legal pressure throughout our written history.

So, this is my Gay Marriage in History Post for what it’s worth. Some of these accounts will intersect with my summary of the western history of homosexuals (here: 1, 2, and 3), and most of the information comes from Homosexuality and Civilization by Crompton, and Out of the Past by Neil Miller:

In pre-Christian Rome, It seems marriage was determined by affectio maritalis (intention to be married). The State didn’t decide marriages unless there was a problem. The rights for those living in a house were spelled out in contract, or by status as property (children and slaves). If a family split up, a judge would have to determine if they lived as married by collecting evidence, and what (or who) contractually belonged to whom.

Furthermore, a gay Roman could bring others under his roof as family, and grown men were “adopted” with the privileges of a family heir. Official marriage for gay couples basically seems unnecessary in many cultures that tolerated homosexuality, as they didn’t have stuff like health insurance to fret about, and had other workable solutions. A homosexual could simply marry in their own way, live in the same home, which made them family, and work the rest out by agreement, like the rest of the population.

I can find some accounts online of official same sex unions being performed by some religious sects of Rome, but they aren't in references I've yet been able to verify.

Nevertheless, as we all know, Constantine converted and the tide began to turn against gays (as I discussed here). When Constantine’s sons took the helm, they implemented edicts giving “exquisite punishment” to the “passive” homosexual in a union only, in 342 AD (my bold):

When a man marries as a woman who offers yourself to man, what does he wish, when sex has lost its significance; when the crime is one which 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, a lot of the armed with an avenging sword, but those infamous persons who are now, or who hereafter may be guilty may be subjected to exquisite punishment.

Note the familiar mischaracterization of gay unions. While it seems it took a while to get such laws enforced and to get the public behind them, eventually “exquisite punishment” was realized, and for all those caught in a gay relationship.

Evidence of gay marriage from Portugal and Spain. This event occurred in a Portuguese immigrant region of Rome:

Venetian Ambassador Antonio Tiepolo reports (Rome 1578):
“Eleven Portuguese and Spaniards have been captured. They had assembled into Church near St. John Lateran where they had performed some ceremonies of horrible wickedness which sullied the sacred name of matrimony, marrying each other and being joined together as husband and wife. 27 or more, it is said, were discovered altogether on other occasions, but this time they were not able to capture more than this eleven, who were given to the fire as they deserved.”

It’s important to note this clearly hostile ambassador says gay men were “marrying” each other, in 1578. Of course he didn’t like it, but they were doing it. I think it’s also important to note these homosexuals seemed to feel a religious blessing, presumably Christian in nature due to the chosen location, was valuable to their union, worth risking their lives over. To my mind, that could suggest some sort of greater organization in their immigrant community, but, when the ceremony alone meant burning to death, it would be hard to find such expressed openly, and so who knows?

In China it seems they created a separate institution for gay men. They were called nanfeng, meaning the “Southern Custom” (The term is a pun, as “nan” means man as well). Homosexual men would still marry women, so that Confucian duties would be accomplished, but their partners had some of the benefits of a married wife (if not better).

Consider this account by Shen Defu (1578-1642):

The Fujianese men are extremely fond of male beauty. No matter how rich or poor, handsome or ugly, they all find a companion of their own status. Between the two the older is called the "bond elder brother" (qixiong), the youngest "bond younger brother" (qidi). When the elder brother goes to the house of the younger brother, the parents of the latter take care of him and love him like a son-in-law. And the younger brother’s expenses, including those of his marriage are all covered by the elder brother. They love each other and at the age of 30 are still sleeping in the same bed together like husband and wife….Such passions can be so deep that it is not uncommon that two lovers, finding it impossible to continue their relationship, tie themselves up together and drown themselves.”

So these couples are still pressured to marry women here and it seems there can be conflicts by which the gay union would be severed. But they’re also given access to another marriage-like institution of a different name (of course, the union between a man and a woman wasn’t called “marriage” either in 16th century China, if you’re the type terribly concerned with the word ;-)). Still, Shen recognizes it as very much like marriage (FYI, for those who need stronger evidence for homosexuality than sleeping together and strong passion between men, there is art from the period that shows some sexual interaction).

In the Americas there was a surprise waiting for the white man, and a far worse surprise waiting for the natives, particularly those who were GLB or T. Hernan Cortes (1485-1547 AD) reported to Charls V "we have learnt and been informed for sure that they [Vera Cruz natives] are all sodomites..." Certainly an exaggeration, but pottery backs him up in part. Nuno de Guzman, another conquistador, reported about a man captured in battle:

[he] fought most courageously, was a man in the habit of a woman, which confessed that from a child he had gotten his living by that filthiness, which I caused him to burn.”

It doesn’t seem such conquerors got close enough to the locals to chat about their families; I doubt it mattered much to them. But Cabeze de Vaca, a Spanish explorer in the 1540s, reported regarding the inhabitants of an island off the coast of Texas, “In the time I was thus among these people, I saw a diabolical thing and it is that I saw a man married to another.”

In what is now Santa Barbara California, there’s a report even of a native convert to Catholicism, who, while living in the mission brought his husband to live with him. The head of the mission became suspicious and, along with a couple soldiers, entered their room to find them “in the act of committing the nefarious sin.” The male convert defended himself by saying they were married… I know; doesn’t sound like it’d go over too well as an excuse, but what innocence. Nevertheless, they were only “mildly” punished.

The missionary noted that each tribe had about two or three of such couples but “we place our trust in God and expect that these accused people will disappear with the growth of the missions. The abominable vice will be eliminated to the extent that the Catholic faith and all other virtues are firmly implanted there.” I’d bet the guy would be quite upset to know gay couples are being joined, at least in civil unions, in his very area.

We can find accounts of the rarer cases of lesbian unions South America. Pedro de Magalhales, a Portuguese explorer traveling through Brazil in the 16th century remarks on a group of female warriors in an encountered tribe:

“They wear the hair cut in the same way as men, and go to war with bows and arrows and pursue game, always in the company of men… Each has a woman to server her, to whom she says she is married; and they treat each other and speak with each other as man and wife.”

Other than that, the Mohave had hwame, females who would do a bit of both male and female work. They would be expected to take a woman as a wife, and, if that woman had children, the hwame would become their parent as well.

There is also the case of "Woman Chief". Edwin T. Denig, a Caucasian who lived with the crow and knew her for 12 years described her as always perusing “manly accomplishments.” She was adopted into the Crow tribe at a young age and she eventually took responsibility for her foster father’s lodge and family, as a bit of a war hero. She eventually took three wives (there’s a joke in there somewhere :-)), and was killed in a “peacemaking expedition” to another tribe.

In the Americas it’s important to note a couple things about these unions. Typically one partner in a male-male union was expected to take on a feminine role. Though there certainly are some exceptions in their recorded activities, such as the account of Osh-Tish, a renowned warrior as well as a bade, or so-called berdache or “two-spirit” person. These “two-spirit” tribe members are argued to be more like our modern “queens”: effeminate, artsy, ambiguously gendered, and so on; you know the stereotype :-). While merely tolerated in some tribes, many revered them as spiritually gifted and great matchmakers, bridging male and female worlds. There typically though was no special name or social standing for their spouses. Men could take a berdache as a spouce or, where polygamy was practiced, men could have women and these men as their spouces. I’d take it the men marrying the berdache are those we’d most closely refer to as gay or bisexual in our day. Regardless, it’s difficult to apply modern vocabulary to such a different time and culture.

In the end in the Americas, it seems, near all of that tradition was wiped out, by violence or subtler forms of coercion, such as religious threat and indoctrination through boarding schools.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve collected (that I can verify in the printed page) on gay unions in history. If anyone has another account of same sex couples marrying, please send them my way; I’d love to know of them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Как говорилось на Seexi.net Вице-президент фирмы "ЛУКойл" Анатолий Барков признан потерпевшим в автоаварии, которая произошла в Москве в феврале этого года. Тогда погибли 2 человека.
Как передает "Интерфакс" со ссылкой на правоохранительные органы, по завершении ряда экспертиз виновной в происшествии признана Ольга Александрина - водитель машины, столкнувшейся с "Мерседесом" Баркова.
Дело, вызвавшее широкий общественный резонанс, будет закрыто в обозримое время, поскольку Александрина погибла на месте происшествия.
Пэ.Эс. Надеюсь все помнят что видео наблюдения с камер с этого участка дороги просто исчезли.Если бы вина была не машины президента Лукойла, то видео наблюдений никуда бы не исчезли, надеюсь все это понимают.Что делать станем?