Gay Marriages

‘God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!’

Bit cheap, I know. And a joke is nor an argument. If Professor John Boswell was alive he would counter with cool academic reasoning. Like that enshrined in his 1994 book, ‘The Marriage of Likeness’. Subtitled ‘Same-sex unions in pre-modern Europe’, it felt like a bombshell...or a damp squib, perhaps?

Homosexual marriage an aberration? No way, Boswell shrilled. His research uncovered examples of church liturgies, mostly Eastern Orthodox, suggesting weddings, nuptials between men. With the blessing of church authorities. Even Byzantine emperor Basil I, no less, apparently went in for that. Well!

A man marring another man is not quite novel. Historian Svetonius relates how Nero had the youth Sporo castrated and then treated as a wife, with proper ceremony and contract. ‘It would have been well for Rome if Nero’s father also had wedded such a spouse’, a wag quipped. Clearly, Nero’s nuptials only emphasised the ruler’s madness, past generations felt. But, come on, the example is unfair. Poor Sporo would hardly have enjoyed losing his balls. Abuse is not love. It is different with the ‘marriage of likeness’, Boswell could contend, as surely the partners were willing. Indeed, even two revered Eastern saints-martyrs, SS. Sergius and Bacchus, would have undergone the liturgy he describes. What could be more exemplary from a Christian standpoint?

Simplifying a bit, Boswell’s argument hinges on a key Greek word in the services at issue. He translates it as ‘same-sex union’, which begs the question. ‘Brotherliness’ might be more apposite. It would not suit his argument, of course. Does the Prof read into the text his own predilections? (Sadly, Boswell succumbed to AIDS years back.) After all, the document detailing the martyrdom of SS Sergius and Bacchus explicitly states that the holy youths were united by faith, not by nature. Brothers in Christ then, not physical lovers. Besides, given the ethical rigour of the early Christians...let us say that being gay was not quite flavour of the month.

Note also that Christianity historically has valued celibacy and chastity higher than marriage. Christ was unmarried and some of the greatest saints were celibates. Nowhere does it say in the Christian Scriptures or tradition than being married is necessary to salvation. It is well to remember that, in this stupid, sex-crazed age. And that applies to both gays and straights.

Of course, some words are ambiguous. ‘This is my friend’, depending on tone and context can bear quite different meanings. Still, friendship and Eros, pace Plato and the ancient Greeks, are not the same. ‘I don’t go to bed with my friends’, I recall a bloke saying...Anyway, It is plain in the New Testament philia, friendship, does not mean physical love. Indeed, it excludes it. To maintain the opposite is to perpetrate a ‘category mistake’ - that’s that.

Nonetheless, marriage between men sometimes did take place. It was not, alas, much approved of. St John by the Latin Gate is an ancient, pleasing parish near my now vanished parental home in Rome. A learned Rosminian priest there told me that in St John’s a Monsignor Mascanbruno centuries before headed a peculiar brotherhood of Portuguese men. He would also secretly marry them, male with male. When discovered, the Inquisition burned the lot, of course. Pity there wasn’t an enlightened David Cameron around to bless them.

Dull Dave will have his way, anyhow. Gay church marriage will be legal in Ukania, as sure as eggs are eggs. Until now it seems only Quakers, Unitarians and ‘liberal Jews’ have expressed a desire to perform such rites. I respect Quakers for their historical pacifism and philanthropy but they are an exceedingly wan, attenuated form of religion. They have no sacraments or ministers or set forms of worship or real doctrines. Are Quakers really Christians? Discuss.

Unitarians by contrast retain some church-like trappings but their extreme liberalism teaches you what happens when a hitherto Christian body officially dumps bagatelles like the Trinity, the divinity of Christ and miracles. An almost dream scenario to Muslims, I suspect, but in practice ruination, collapse to secularism follows. An object lesson. (By the way, PM Neville Chamberlain was a Unitarian. Did it influence Munich, his appeasement to Hitler, all that? I wonder...) As to liberal Jews...er...don’t reckon Moses will be pleased.

What is ludicrous is that the Government is banning the Anglican Church from performing gay weddings. Some will regard it as a blessing, saving the Church from lacerating internal wrangles but it is a very mixed blessing. It underlines the harm caused by the subjection of Christ to Caesar. The outcome can be demonic. Pragmatically, this has not always been the case. Centuries back Parliament was virtually the lay synod of the Church of England but today Parliament is an actively anti-Christian body. Legislation often contradicts Christian ethics. Here I must be blunt: the majority of MPs should go where their heart seems to be...to hell. The establishment must be rethought.

‘Surely the institution of marriage, civil and religious, is strengthened by the fact that even gays want to be part of it’, some affirm. An argument of sort but...would they say the institution of private property is ‘strengthened’ by thieves and burglars? After all, their deeds indicate how much they desire property – that of others. What a shame theft is deemed unlawful.

Lastly, many gays will rejoice at their victory but...should they? Gay liberation way back presented itself as a daring, adventurous, almost revolutionary movement. Thinking of many gay icons of the recent past, writers like Genet, Pasolini, Peyrefitte and Orton, the impression you get is that being gay is synonymous with being a proud outsider, one boasting of his difference, a resolutely anti-bourgeois agent provocateur scoffing at the dreary family-orientated ‘straights’ in their midst. Were they alive today, I can’t see those rebels looking forward to a church wedding. Gays have become as boringly uxorious as straights, it seems. That, however, is not the whole story but I cannot tell it here...



Revd Frank Julian Gelli

Last modified on Friday, 05 April 2013 00:37

Frank Gelli I am an Anglican priest and cultural critic and commentator. I have BA in Philosophy, MA in Christian Ethics, MA in Islamic Studies, PGCE in Religious Education and Oxford Certificate in Theology. I have been a journalist & drama critic in Italy and England.
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