Greece in the news: Did the Greeks have gay marriage?

The business of law is based on precedent. I guess this is why Justice Samuel Alito, when making arguments against gay marriage, needed to turn to ancient Greece:

But there have been cultures that did not frown on homosexuality. That is not a universal opinion throughout history and across all cultures. Ancient Greece is an example. It was — it was well accepted within certain bounds. But did they have same-sex marriage in ancient Greece?

If you read the full transcript, his point seems to be something along these lines: Greeks had homosexual relationships, but not gay marriage; they accepted homosexuality, but not the formalized state relationship; therefore it’s okay for the US to accept homosexual relationships, but not a formalized state relationship such as marriage.

I’m not in the business of making policy decisions, but that strikes me as a rather odd take on ancient history. As most classicists know, “ancient Greece” (by which we mean Athens) recognized homosexual relationships between partners of certain ages and classes as the norm. These relationships were actually sort of formalized, if you consider that there was a separate vocabulary to describe them and that they were quasi-exclusive (the eromenos can’t hang out with too many erastoi, but a female might be okay). In other words, they were actually sanctioned and approved of by the community, even if there was no gamos.

The HuffPo went to the trouble of actually asking a classicist if Alito’s summary was correct. Thomas Hubbard’s video response is a good primer for anyone who’s less familiar with Athenian custom (he only got about 5 minutes to answer), and cautiously dances around the F-word (get your mind out of the gutter — I mean Foucault).

All the same, the best response came from the person who tweeted “why do we care about ancient Greece? They had slaves.”

Well played, random American. Well played.

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