The History of Gay Marriage: from the Ancients to Gen Z!
*This is a Collaborative Post
Gay marriage has only just become a lawful enterprise, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t always around. For the history of gay marriage, you came to the right place.
Despite the recent history of the LGBTQ+ community being one of prejudice and discrimination, things weren’t always like this. Our current acceptance echoes civilisations of the past, who saw same-sex unions as normal and right.
Thanks to this abundant history of gay marriage, a , Lewes, or anywhere else in Sussex or the UK will now be able to help with your civil partnership or marriage. But how has this developed, and where did this all begin? Let’s take a look…
LGBT Unions at the Beginning of the Ancient World
Luckily for us budding history lovers, the ancient world has a myriad of evidence available, which provides us with a pretty good idea of how life was lived back then. Because of this, we know that same-sex unions occurred across the globe, in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, and later in ancient Greece and Rome.
Similarly, during the ancient Chinese , we see examples of domestic partnerships between men, which is recorded in the story of Pan Zhang & Wang Zhongxian. Although a religious ceremony was not practised to bind the two together in marriage, it’s believed that the community viewed their relationship on the same footing as a heterosexual marriage.
What Happens in Rome…
Much later on, during the ancient Grecian period, we see appearances of homosexual relationships in the art and pottery, between both men and women. During this time, the practice of pederasty – the union between a man and a young boy – was common. However, this usually coexisted with a marriage between a man and a woman, and was normally a short-lived affair.
Similarly, the Romans were a pretty free and open community, not limited by their religious views in many respects. Unlike the Christian community, the pagan mindset surrounding sex was that it was a natural part of human existence. So, sex wasn’t something that was kept between husband and wife, or was seen as immoral or dirty; it was often a group activity that revolved around pleasure.
Many Roman men actually had a predilection for sleeping with young boys around the ages of 12 to 20, who were usually slaves or prostitutes. The main theory behind sex during the Roman period was that you had two parties; the passive or feminine participant, and the dominant and more masculine participant. This meant that those who took the more “dominant” role in these relationships wouldn’t lose their masculinity because of it, unlike later views of homosexuality.
So, relationships between men and men, or women and women, were not unheard of during the Roman times. It’s even thought that, although marriage was usually saved for procreation purposes, some male couples celebrated their relationships through marriage.
In fact, a few of the Roman emperors were known to have sexual relations with men or young boys. We even hear of some becoming involved in same-sex marriages!
Nero and His Marriages
Despite Nero’s pretty bad reputation, we could say that he was one of the first gay icons in history! In fact, Nero was actually said to have been married to two, or even more, men during his lifetime,
Two public weddings have been recorded regarding Nero, including one to his freedman, Pythagoras. In this wedding, Nero took the role of the bride, and in another marriage to a young man named Sporus, he took the role of the groom. In this case, it’s thought that Sporus was castrated to become more feminine.
What’s very telling about the descriptions of this is that Nero’s stage performances were deemed to be more scandalous than his marriages. Nero had a passion for the arts, and went against his preordained role as emperor to perform in front of an audience. Clearly, homosexuality wasn’t something that called for much notice.
He wasn’t the only one either; it’s thought that most of the emperors were bisexual, and enjoyed same-sex relations in the ways described above. Even the great Mark Antony was also thought to have enjoyed homosexual relations.
Another Imperial Engagement
A few centuries on from Nero, the emperor Elagabalus is also thought have been a bride in his wedding to a male partner. His husband, Zoticus, was a famous male athlete, but he also may have married his slave, Hierocles, too. Although the sources aren’t all that positive, it’s thought that a number of men in Elagabalus’ court were also in gay marriages too, or said they were to imitate their beloved ruler.
Lesbian Relationships During the Roman Period
Despite the heavy documentation in ancient texts and artwork of man to man relations, the same can’t be said for lesbian relationships. In fact, female to female relationships are far less documented, and some Augustine poets even go as far as to say that these relationships were “unheard of”.
That said, we must remember that there weren’t really many documentations of women during the Roman times anyway. There were almost no female writers, and the main texts revolved around the male experience. So, it wouldn’t be hard to believe that perhaps same-sex relations between women were far more common than our evidence lets on.
The main evidence we have from this period of lesbian relationships is in a Greek magical papyri. This describes Roman imperial women who fell in love with other women.
Feelings Behind Male-Male Marriage in the Ancient Roman Times
Although there was a pretty open opinion of gay relationships during the ancient times, the same can’t be said for gay marriage. Yes, we do see gay marriage every so often, but most of the writers who discuss it mock it, and make their disapproval known. Although these texts make it seem as though marriage between men wasn’t infrequent, it still wasn’t really recognised by the law.
In most cases, homosexuality wasn’t really frowned upon, but same-sex marriage was seen in a different light. That said, it’s clear that an emperor could do a lot worse, in the eyes of writers at the time.
Despite the lack of evidence in the ancient world of female-female relationships, societies in pre-colonial Africa permitted women to marry one another. This usually occurred when a widowed woman didn’t wish to marry another man, or return to theirs or their husband’s family after his death. Instead, they’d pay for the bride, and a ceremony would take place.
In this culture, it was really important to have descendants, and these sorts of unions provided that. In fact, the widow would act as the stereotypical husband in the relationship, keeping hold of the inheritance. If a man was to impregnate the widow’s wife, he would have no claim on the child, and the women would raise the child together.
Medieval Love in the Christian Age
The main change in attitude towards homosexual relationships and marriages was the introduction of Christianity in the 4th century. This was the first real restriction put on same-sex marriages; legal prohibitions against male-male marriage were put in place.
At this time, the Old Testament became the main source of lawful interpretation. Here, the Hebrews are warned not to do what the Egyptians did – for a man to marry a man, and a woman to marry a woman. Instead, marriage became completely associated with procreation, hence the change in attitude.
China’s Ming Dynasty
Despite the Christian societies across Europe damning same-sex relationships, that doesn’t mean that we don’t still see same-sex couples across the rest of the world. For example, during the of China, from the 14th and 17th centuries, we see hints of same-sex female unions. In fact, in the province of Guangdong, it’s said that binding contracts between women, which ended in elaborate marriage ceremonies, were known.
The 20th Century LGBT Community
Much later on, we see examples of homosexuality cropping up everywhere. For example, in Mexican society, same-sex marriage occurred, most prevalent in the – a man who behaves and dresses like a woman. These Muxes were permitted to marry men, and although we see this as a homosexual marriage, it’s really a marriage between two differently gendered individuals.
What’s more, despite prejudice still being common during this time, the early 20th century saw pioneers to stamp out LGBTQ+ prejudice. Clearly, this had the first hint of LGBTQ+ individuals showing off their true selves, which led the way for our current society.
LGBTQ+ Rights in 21st Century UK: Gen-Z is Open to Anything!
Despite the Christianisation of Europe, which aimed to stamp out homosexuality and trans lives, we’ve come a long way. Although sexual activity between two women has never really been outlawed, the decriminalisation of sexual relations between two men came about in 1967 in England and Wales. Later on, Scotland and Northern Ireland followed suit.
Since this turn of events, support for the LGBTQ+ community has continued to rise. Although we’re certainly not at a stage of perfect acceptance, the increasing and strengthening support towards the community is heart-warming to see. In fact, the 21st century has seen a lot of change for the UK, including:
2005: Transgender people now have the legal right to change their gender.
2005: In the same year, civil partnerships were adopted, which follow the same legal structure as a heterosexual marriage.
2009: Same-sex couples were permitted to adopt children in this year.
2010: The Equality Act was revised, ensuring that discrimination in the workplace against anyone, including the LGBT community, is now unlawful.
2014: Same-sex marriage was legalised this year, in England, Wales, and Scotland.
2016: Her Majesty’s Armed Forces has now removed the ban on LGBT individuals serving openly.
Let’s Celebrate Love!
As you can see, despite prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community throughout the last millennia, and more, it wasn’t always this way. A lot of ancient civilisations viewed same-sex relationships on equal footing to heterosexual ones. In fact, evidence for same-sex relationships is rife for these ancient periods, displaying the liberal attitudes of these societies.
Clearly, it’s taken the world a long time to get back to these more pagan mindsets. Although there’s still a long way to go before gay marriage is legalised everywhere, and for LGBTQ+ lives to truly be seen as equal across the globe, progress is being made.
What do you think of the history of gay marriage? Have you learnt something new? Or perhaps you think there’s a prominent period of gay history we’ve missed? Let us know, in the comments below!