Pope Francis said today that he doesn't care "if someone is gay [as long as] he searches for the Lord and has good will." If that doesn't make religious anti-gay bigots mad, tell them about this historical fact: the original Christian Church of 100AD actually sacralized the union of people of the same sex.
Gay marriage sounds like an ultra-contemporary idea. But almost twenty years ago, a Catholic scholar at Yale shocked the world by publishing a book packed with evidence that same-sex marriages were sanctioned by the early Christian Church during an era commonly called the Dark Ages.
John Boswell was a historian and religious Catholic who dedicated much of his scholarly life to studying the late Roman Empire and early Christian Church. Poring over legal and church documents from this era, he discovered something incredible. There were dozens of records of church ceremonies where two men were joined in unions that used the same rituals as heterosexual marriages. (He found almost no records of lesbian unions, which is probably an artifact of a culture which kept more records about the lives of men generally.)
How could these marriages have been forgotten by history? One easy answer is that — as Boswell argues — the Church reframed the idea of marriage in the 13th century to be for the purposes of procreation. And this slammed the door on gay marriage. Church scholars and officials worked hard to suppress the history of these marriages in order to justify their new definition.
Of course, history is more complicated than that. Boswell claims that part of the problem is that we define marriage so differently today that it's almost impossible for historians to recognize 1800-year-old gay marriage documents when they see them. Often, these documents refer to uniting "brothers," which at the time would have been a way of describing same-sex partners whose lifestyles were tolerated in Rome. Also, marriages over a millennium ago were not based on procreation, but wealth-sharing. So "marriage" sometimes meant a non-sexual union of two people's or families' wealth. Boswell admits that some of the documents he found may refer simply to non-sexual joining of two men's fortunes — but many also referred to what today we would call gay marriage.