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- Aug 4, 2001
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The interesting thing about watching the debate about same-sex marriage, especially the declaration by many that marriage has always been a Christian family tradition, is that so many of these folks seem not to have an actual grasp of church history.
Leaving aside for a moment the fact that same-sex marriages were routinely conducted by the Catholic Church for nearly three hundred years, from the 10th to the 12th centuries under what was variously termed the Office of Same-Sex Union or the Order for Uniting Two Men, whats more compelling is what the Church felt about marriage between a man and woman for the first nine hundred years of its existence.
Basically, they were against it. Marriage created issues of property that could potentially be inherited by offspring rather than granted to the church or seized by lords in the absence of an heir. Marriage was considered by many of Christendoms brightest lights to be something vile and repugnant. Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus (160-225 AD), one of the most regarded Christian writers of his age, often derided marriage, saying that it consists essentially in fornication. Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, the Bishop of Carthage, believed that marriage and childbirth was no longer necessary since the world was now full and ready for Christs return.
Consequently, for over eight hundred years the Church refused to have anything to do with marriage. It refused to allow marriages to take place on church grounds and prohibited members of the clergy from taking part in marriage ceremonies outside church grounds. They were to be performed strictly according to local customs without Church recognition, sanction or involvement.
It was only during the late 9th century that the Catholic Church, under pressure from followers, finally began to recognize marriage as a sacrament to be included in the list of other church rituals. But even then, it was considered a second-rate lesser sacrament, a poor cousin to the other, more important sacraments such as Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Orders. It wasnt until the Council of Trent in 1547 that marriage was finally accorded equal status with the other sacraments. (Ironically, many of the arguments raised at Trent against including marriage with the other sacraments were similar to the arguments being made against same-sex marriage today.)
So the next time you hear someone talking about marriage between a man and woman being a Christian tradition, after you mention the same-sex marriages of the 10th-12 centuries, remind them that conventional marriage, marriage between a man and a woman, was derided, ignored, prohibited, diminished or dismissed by the church for ONE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED AND FORTY SEVEN YEARS.
Then sit back and enjoy the ruffled-feather symphony, knowing that history and the facts are on your side.