Monday, August 23, 2010

The Last Straw, the First Post (Part II)

     History provides some strong counter-examples to the idea that gay marriage has ever existed as an acceptable alternative institution in the West. Often, proponents of gay marriage claim that objections to it derive only from Christian dogma. To the contrary, the practice was despised in pagan Rome, so much so that the few instances of it in history are cited as smears on the reputations of those attempting it. To the pagan Romans, such conduct was a gross aberration that proved the debauchery of two infamous emperors who attempted it. Nero, whom the historian Suetonius reports was twice married to other men, was one. That Nero would engage in such marriages was consistent with the rest of his character. He consistently mocked every social institution, to the point of having his mother killed so he would be free to marry his chosen girl (Nero apparently had an indiscriminate appetite). Suetonius delighted in reporting salacious details of the emperors, and there is a body of criticism that doubts his gay marriages as too obviously a slander even for Nero. Another Roman emperor who attempted gay marriage was Elagabalus. Again, marriage to another man was taken as evidence of the perpetrator’s lewdness and impropriety. Neither example establishes the acceptability of gay marriage among the Romans. To the contrary, the attitudes of the Roman people were firmly against the practice.

     The conduct of a third emperor confirms the aversion to gay marriage at Rome, even among a people tolerant of homosexuality. In the second century AD, reigning long after Nero and long before Elagabalus, there was Hadrian. He was an extraordinary man—soldier, architect, administrator, and patron of the arts. He also happened to have a passionate love for a young man named Antinous. The sources agree that Hadrian and Antinous lived fairly openly as lovers, but Hadrian never attempted to marry Antinous. Hadrian, as Emperor of Rome, could have done what he pleased, as had Nero before him. Indeed, when Antinous later died, Hadrian had him declared a god and encouraged the population to worship him. Antinous was thus deified, but he never became the bride of Hadrian. Hadrian, a far better emperor than Nero, knew marriage did not exist just for his private fulfillment. We know that and a bit more: However much we may sympathize with homosexuals, we cannot afford to re-make our institutions to accommodate their cultural aggression.

     If experience is the best teacher, then we should acknowledge the value of the experience of an entire people. In a person, well-considered experience is called wisdom. In a people, it is tradition. Yes, some traditions must change as circumstances change. However, as we should have learned to our regret in the past 40 years, pretending that we are so unlike our ancestors that we do not need their traditions leads to disaster. Indeed, it is a form of cultural suicide.

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