Marriage is One Vassal / One Vassal

Timothy Kincaid

August 23rd, 2007

One of the most often heard (and most ignorant) arguments against recognition of same-sex couples is that marriage has always been the same – one man and one woman – for 5,000 years.  Considering that the same people who assert this position also claim they read the Bible, I marvel that they don’t break out in giggles.

In 1994 the acclaimed history scholar John Boswell released Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. Boswell centered his research on liturgy and offered evidence that during the middle ages certain segments of the Church recognized same-sex couples using ceremonies startlingly similar to wedding.

Now the Journal of Modern History (as reported by Science Daily) will present in its September issue historical evidence of legal documents used by two men to who promised to share “one bread, one wine, and one purse.”

The effects of entering into an affrèrement were profound. As [Allan A.] Tulchin explains: “All of their goods usually became the joint property of both parties, and each commonly became the other’s legal heir. They also frequently testified that they entered into the contract because of their affection for one another. As with all contracts, affrèrements had to be sworn before a notary and required witnesses, commonly the friends of the affrèrés.”

Tulchin acknowledges the difficulties of stating definitively that such civil unions were sexual in nature – just as they would be today.  Nonetheless, recognition of same-sex affection and devotion in a period before our own should hardly shock us.  I doubt my grandmother’s bachelor uncles would be all that surprised.

Emily K

August 23rd, 2007

You should read more about St. Sergius and St. Bacchus. The earliest manuscripts about them (c. 3rd century CE) describe them as “erasti” (lovers). Their story of martyrdom is very touching.

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