Same-Sex Marriage Supported in History

Same-sex Marriage

Same-Sex marriage can be found as far back as ancient Mesopotamia. Like the Egyptians, their highly descriptive and prescriptive laws about marriage were written down. None of their early legal doctrines noted prohibitions or disapproval of same-sex unions, showing that throughout history there has been support for these types of marriages.

Some experts disagree with the reading of the laws of the ancient world, but in the 4th century B.C. there was one same-sex relationship discussed openly in Plato’s Symposium. Further, it goes on to describe sex and sexuality as the human effort to find their soul mate. Historians consider this proof that Grecians were accepting and tolerant of same-sex relationships. Marriages and unions of the same-sex, for the ancients, were legal.

In Rome, during the early days of the republic, same-sex marriages were more than tolerated. These unions were legal and given the same status as heterosexual marriages. Records of documented relationships between emperors and men also point to an acceptance of same-sex unions. One of the first novels written during that period depicted Egypt’s queen being in love with another woman and eventually marrying her. The literature of a period is generally accepted as a good indication of whether something is accepted or not.

Before Christianity’s involvement same-sex marriage was not seen as immoral. Taking Plato’s idea of looking for a soul mate it is not wonder most relationships were sacred. It was not until Christianity became more involved in Roman affairs around 342 A.D that same-sex unions and marriages came under attack. Their influence was twofold. First, sexual activity was not for pleasure. Second, the role of intercourse was only to produce children which could only occur in a heterosexual marriage.

Pre-Western cultures were not the only societies performing same-sex marriages, which presents history as supportive of homosexuality. In Brazil, there were women who imitated men and who accordingly took a woman to marry. In the area now the United State, there were those from the Aztecs, Mayan and Incan tribes who were considered berdache. The berdache can be male or female; they take on traits of the opposite sex.

They married people of the same sex and were afforded the same rites, under Native American marriage laws, as a heterosexual couple. More than being tolerated, the berdache was revered and often assumed special roles in their tribe because they were seen as better equipped to meditate in the physical and spiritual worlds.

Various African tribes took part in same-sex marriage ceremonies. In what is now the Sudan, the Azande military men would take on boy wives in ceremonies which were legally and culturally marriages. In other African societies male political leaders were transgendered and often married men. Studies suggest it is similar to the berdache found in Native American tribes. Female husbands were another common marriage type in Africa. These women would take on the role of the man and married a woman (or women) and had all the legal rights afforded a male-female marriage.

Asian cultures such as Vietnam, India, Korea, Nepal and China have traditions similar to the berdache and companionate marriages similar to ancient Roman and Greek times. During China’s Zhou Dynasty there are accounts of same-sex couples celebrated in various works of literature. There is not as much documentation about these same-sex marriages as in other cultures, but they are available for historical support. In the 17th century there are stories written by Li Yu which speak of sexual relations and the affairs between men, and explicitly describes two men who become husband and wife.

The history of same-sex marriage is long and varied. Around 1200 European attitudes changed. Christian thinkers Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas created theological arguments against all same-sex relationships. Some historians blame the burgeoning economy because people were better able to not only engage in same-sex relationships but to also flaunt them. It became about maintaining social order. In the 20th century doctors considered it a deviance to be attracted to the same sex, creating room for persecution.

Persecution, laws forbidding unions and the disapproval of governments have not ended same-sex marriages today any more than they have throughout history. History supports same-sex unions today as it has for centuries.

Opinion By Sara Kourtsounis

Yale School of Law
Freedom to Marry

3 Responses to "Same-Sex Marriage Supported in History"

  1. Kevin   July 24, 2014 at 3:44 am

    Sad to still see people trying to erase trans people from history by deliberately misgendering them and insisting on describing hetero couples with one trans partner as same sex couples.

  2. Dick Lenhart   July 19, 2014 at 5:31 pm


    Many Native Americans (and other cultures) now look at the word “berdache” as an indo-european pejorative label and find it to be disparaging. The term “two spirit” is used instead.

    • Sara Kourtsounis   July 20, 2014 at 7:20 pm

      Thank you for that information. I saw “two spirit” as an alternative but nothing that noted it as a preferred term. I appreciate the comment.

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