A Historical Perspective on “Gay Marriage”


By: Matthew A. Roberts

In recent articles one is inclined to believe that people only oppose “gay marriage” on religious grounds. If you look at the history of homosexuality, however, you will find that people have had criticisms of homosexual behavior on other grounds as well.

Many of the arguments one hears against gay marriage are religious or, more specifically, Christian in nature. For example, Leviticus, 1 Corinthians and Romans all proscribe homosexual behavior. Furthermore, within the history of Christianity, from the early Church Fathers to later Protestants, there exists a continual condemnation of homosexual acts. In short, the Christian tradition for over 2,000 years has overwhelmingly deplored any sort of homosexual undertaking, and Western countries, being Christian in origin, have significantly been influenced by Christian morals on this subject.

The extent of the disapproval of homosexuality, however, limits itself not only to Christianity. We also find proscriptions against excessive homosexual behavior in Plato, the Emperor Augustus (who encouraged marriage among the upper class for procreation) and among other ancient writers as well. In fact, homosexual “relationships,” at least as we know them, did not even exist among the Greeks and Romans. Although we commonly find pederasty among the ancients, evidence of same-age relationships scarcely exists. Although they recognized homosexual acts as common among certain classes, specific homosexual acts (esp. those regarding passivity) were considered degrading for the upper class. Furthermore, heterosexual marriage remained the unquestioned norm, and the ancients did not even consider “gay marriage” as an option.

The definition of marriage has always implied heterosexuality. The word ‘marriage’, from the Latin maritare, linguistically has built into it the idea of procreation. Maritare not only means to marry but also to impregnate, which is why commentators would speak of women simultaneously being married and impregnated. In short, purely in terms of semantics, the very notion of marriage is defined in terms of impregnation. Historically in the West, even in non-Christian cultures, the very idea of “gay marriage” would have been an oxymoron.
The legal arguments against “gay marriage” mirror the linguistic in many ways. In natural law, for example, the teleological purpose of marriage is procreation. The very survival of the species depends upon reproduction, so it is the goal of government to encourage fruitful marriages. It is also for this reason, both in pagan and Christian laws, that you find the failure to issue any progeny permissible grounds for divorce. Even in periods of European history when divorce would be prohibited for almost any reason, one can still find many instances of divorce for lack of offspring. Reproduction, through and through, has always been central to the legality of marriage, which is why no culture, until very recently, has even considered “gay marriage.”

Heterosexuals, however, are not alone in their condemnation of “gay marriage.” Historically minded homosexuals too – those who realize that history does not begin in 1968 – recognize homosexuality as an exception to long-standing historical norm, and are quite content with it remaining in the margins. As many have noted, people have always engaged in homosexual acts, but these acts have never been prescribed as the norm, especially not in relation to marriage. Following the cues of history, intellectual homosexuals prefer to keep homosexuality as a vibrant subculture, but nothing more. To transgress against a firmly planted historical paradigm, they argue, is Quixotic at best.

Marriage, if it is to survive, must remain a long-standing institution defined as the eternal union of man and a woman. There is a reason that wise statesmen for all of recorded history have prescribed heterosexual marriage as the norm; it is necessary for the survival of society. Undermine such an important institution, and you are undermining your very cultural legacy. To tamper with this institution in the spirit of social engineering is not only foolish, but also quite devastating. Destroy one of the central tenants of our society, and you are ripping away at the very fabric of our stability. Leveled buildings can easily be rebuilt, but once a nation’s moral fiber has been destroyed it is in serious trouble. Just read Toynbee.
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Matthew A. Roberts is a conservative columnist whose articles have appeared in dozens of publications. He also co-edits a weblog at www.conservatoroccidentalis.com

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