Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Spring 1990

Europe’s First Gay Weddings

by Roy Saich

Denmark has led the way in allowing legal homosexual marriages, and 400 couples have already had their partnerships recognised. 1 October 1989 was the big day when the first weddings took place in Denmark. A recent national opinion poll there found that 44% of Danes approve the law on lesbian and gay partnerships. This figure rose to 80% for some age groups amongst those polled.

A similar law has already been proposed in Sweden with the support of Ingvar Carlsson, the Swedish Prime Minister. Norway may well beat Sweden for second place, however, in actually passing a gay partnership law. British politicians meanwhile don’t even talk about the subject let alone take action. This allows the religious lobby time to mobilise opposition, so that when proposals are considered in Britain there is likely to be vocal and well-organised hostility.

All the usual old arguments will be used with the additional stress that this is a totally novel idea without precedent and one that Europe can well do without. People who express such sentiments will only be showing their ignorance, however, as gay partnerships have been recognised by many tribal societies.

We can perhaps best use as a counter-argument the fact that Europe’s first gay marriages are recorded as a custom of Europe’s oldest civilisation, the Minoan one in Crete. This is well documented in the history of ancient Greece of which it formed a part.

Minoan civilisation developed in the Bronze Age from a tribal society and was organised on military lines. Young free male citizens were trained in all kinds of warfare and Cretan archers were famous. They were employed abroad in the fifth century BC and were recruited into the armies of Alexander the Great.

The Cretan constitution was known as the Gortyn Code and it turned tribal customs into written laws. One of the customs was that males ate their meals communally in Men’s Houses. The boys belonging to each house were in the charge of a supervisor and sat together on the ground to eat their food. As well as looking after themselves they had to look after the men. They wore the same poor garments in winter and summer and they held contests between themselves and with other houses.

When a man fell in love with a younger one he and his friends would organise a complete partnership arrangement. The first part involved a ceremonial abduction. He would declare his feelings to the relatives and friends of his beloved and provided that the abductor was the younger man’s equal or superior in rank or in other respects, and the relatives consented, the abductor and his friends would carry off the youth three or four days later. Friends of the abductor pursued and seized the youth, but only as a formality to satisfy custom. In ancient Sparta the men did the same with their brides. The captured young man was handed over to the abductor, and the pursuit was considered finished when he was conducted to the Men’s House to which the abductor belonged. He was then given presents before being taken away into the countryside.

After spending two months (the period prescribed by convention) feasting and hunting with the abductor and his friends the young man returned to the city. He was then given more presents as tradition required. Special presents were a military costume, a drinking-cup, and an ox, indicating that he had entered upon the first stages of manhood. Thus initiated, the younger man sacrificed the ox to Zeus and gave a feast to his companions. It was considered shameful in Crete for a well-born lad not to have a lover.

An abducted youth was called by a special name, Kleinos, meaning illustrious or laudable. If he had received insult or ill-treatment during the probationary weeks he could get redress at law. If he was satisfied with the conduct of his would-be friend he changed his title from Kleinos to Parastates, meaning friend and bystander in the ranks of battle and life, and henceforward the two lived in close bonds of friendship.

A parastates continued to receive special favours and was given positions of highest honour at dances and races. They were allowed to dress in better clothes than others, which were given by their abductors. As a further honour they wore special dress even when they were grown to manhood, intended to mark them out as people of renown.

Perhaps similar charming human customs, in a modern idiom, may evolve out of the acceptance of gay and lesbian marriages in today’s Europe.

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Created : Sunday, 1999-09-05 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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