No, scratch that. It's mid-May in Rome in the year 390, and you're a Roman emperor about to make one of the biggest mistakes in history: pass a law that would forbid gay marriage under penalty of death by burning at the stake. This document would permanently change the lives of millions of homosexual men and women over 1600 years into the future. From now on, they would be called "sodomites," "unnatural," "abominations," and all other derogatory words associated with homosexuals today.
What was life like before 390? Well for one, no one gave two craps about gay people. Sure some thought they were weird and unusual, but homophobia, or rather "anti-homosexuality," wasn't nearly as common as it is now. In fact, the ancient people were more preoccupied with what these strange people were instead of what they were doing.
The Greeks and Romans called them eunuch, meaning "keeper of the bed." A eunuch by definition was someone who was entrusted to a certain job in the household, which usually put him in an environment surrounded by women. Usually the master would take certain precautions before hiring someone for this job. Some eunuchs needed to be castrated so that they could not produce semen and impregnate the women with his own seed, but others had a peculiar aversion to women and did not have to be castrated. These were called "natural" or "constitutional" eunuchs, and were thought to be an unusual combination of man and woman. Some thought of them as a "third gender," others saw them as monstrosities, but no one ever called them "male." After all, masculinity was defined by one's proactivity with women!
So what started the controversy? Eunuchs initially held high positions in the early Roman Church, but they and the other officials held opposing viewpoints concerning Jesus' status as God's Son. The two sides were grabbing at straws to find fault with the other, but one side had a slight advantage: they were, by societal standards, "normal," and the other was not. So instead of coming up with decent philosophical and biblical arguments to counter their opponent, they resorted to name-calling:
- It was the eunuchs who instigated these proceedings against all. And the most remarkable circumstance in the matter is this; that the Arian heresy which denies the Son of God receives its support from eunuchs, who, as both their bodies are fruitless, and their souls barren of the seeds of virtue, cannot bear even to hear the name of son...The eunuchs of Constantius cannot endure the confession of Peter [Matthew 16:16], nay, they turn away when the Father manifests the Son, and madly rage against those who say that the Son of God is His genuine Son, thus claiming as a heresy of eunuchs that there is no genuine and true offspring of the Father. (Athanasius, History of the Arians, 5.38)
Sad, no? Unfortunately it didn't stop there. The church saw to it that these "heretics" would never become part of the church, and took away their rights to be in committed same-sex relationships:
- All those whose shameful habit it is to condemn the male body to suffer an alien sex in the manner of women, for they appear to be in no way different from women, shall expiate a crime of this kind in avenging flames in the sight of the people. (Code of Theodosius, 9.7.6)
So there you have it, the origins of homophobia in christianity began with a stuck-up, right-wing extremist who hated gay people because they didn't like women. Well done christianity.