Adelphopoiesis: Same-Sex Unions

December 26, 2018

Same-sex marriage is a contemporary possibility in our society. However, it may not be if we abide by the examples that history has given us. One of these examples is adelphopoiesis, which is a term that refers to legal, same-sex marriages.

There have been many same-sex relationships throughout history. The most widely known custom was pederasty in ancient Greece, where teachers and students had relationships with each other. In addition, there were same-sex couples in other times that were socially consolidated and accepted.

G.K. Chesterton said, “The architects knew everything about a Romanesque building except how to build it”. It seems that, in other times, there were ‘architects’ who were capable of building intimate relationships between people of the same sex and allowing romanticism to prevail.

Does this mean that homosexuality and same-sex relationships have always been accepted? Of course not. Although we know about adelphopoiesis and other similar ceremonies in ancient Rome or the Empire of China, homosexuality has never been considered ‘conventional’.

Two men pressing their faces against each other's.

What is adelphopoiesis?

It’s important to note that the ultimate goal of adelphopoiesis wasn’t to bring two people together in a romantic sense. However, both religiously and legally, it did recognize relationships between two men (usually), as well as relationships between two women (occasionally), that were totally accepted by the Church.

Now, people didn’t consider said relationships marriage, but instead a union that forced both parties to take care of each other. This meant they shared their lives, goods, tasks, jobs, and even a family. Moreover, if one of the parties died, the other one promised to continue being in charge of their partner’s relatives.

As it happens in conventional weddings, both people promised to be faithful to each other until their death. However, the practice allowed both partners to share almost everything (they could even be buried together) except explicitly romantic love.

Nonetheless, despite it not being a romantic union but a kind of legal twinning, it seems that sexuality, although it was something that wasn’t contemplated, was implicitly accepted. This meant they could have a “fully legalized” union.

A very ancient practice

Although adelphopoiesis wasn’t a very common practice, it was socially and legally acceptable for a long time. However, it wasn’t very common in Europe. Even so, it’s known that the Catholic Church was part of it. In fact, there were cases that united saints and other people through adelphopoiesis, just like Damian and Cosmas.

On the other hand, we don’t exactly know when this practice stopped. Some people believe this happened due to the fact that attraction between people of the same sex has always been frowned upon.

Basically, having two people of the same sex come together to share their life and burdens was completely legal and accepted, as long as there was no homosexuality. However, it’s pretty obvious that these partners also explored their sexuality with one another.

Two men hugging representing adelphopoiesis.

The precursor of same-sex marriage

Undoubtedly, many people have seen adelphopoiesis as an antecedent of same-sex marriage for many years now. There are authors such as J. Boswell who claim that the Church accepted homosexuality until the 13th century. This explains why some interpret this ceremony as an example of it.