The Marriage of Likeness

book cover

The Marriage of Likeness: Same-sex Unions in Pre-modern Europe (1996)

Format: Paperback

ISBN-13: 9780006863267

Amazon UK: The Marriage of Likeness

Language: English

Standpoint: 1 Fully inclusive and affirming

Genre(s): Academic writing, History, Polemic, and Studies in Religion

Topic(s): Church order and discipline, Same-sex relationships, and Studies in Religion

Especially suitable for: Academics and Those who are undecided about the homosexuality issue

In this book, John Boswell proves that in pagan antiquity and during Christianity’s first millennium extensive legal sanction was given to pair-bonding between males, and that societies found little difficulty in accepting the concepts that homosexual ties could indeed be family and familiar relationships.

A major contemporary argument against homosexual unions has been that they are incapable of fulfilling all that constitutes ‘marriage’, as dictated by a peculiar modern romantic cult of heterosexual love: monogamous erotic passion, procreation, housekeeping and friendship. However, what emerges from Boswell’s examination of what the ‘conjugal alliance’ has meant to different societies through the ages, is that male–female marriage itself was never expected to fulfil all these needs.

Through analysis of a multitude of induction ceremonies, contractual forms, covenants, oaths, blessings, arrangements for the disposition of property and other types of publicly testified and legally/morally binding unions, Boswell shows that Christendom has had a major homosexual past which church authorities during the last few hundred years have chosen to suppress or ignore.


“Boswell’s Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe is a fastidiously researched and thoroughly persuasive book highlighting the existence of homosexual unions (aka marriages) in medieval times, whilst remaining highly readable and accessible to those who can’t be bothered wading through pages and pages of unintelligible dry text. He unearths some interesting facts during the course of the book – for instance the Roman Catholic church happily ‘married’ gay men before the thirteenth century – somewhat at odds with their take on such matters today! It does ignore lesbian relationships but not out of choice – there is simply next to nothing written on women in general around medieval times, such was their place in society! It really is an interesting book, and I found it to be invaluable whilst writing my dissertation on the debate on gay marriage. Highly recommended not just for research purposes, but also for general non-fiction reading.” — Vince

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