I have mentioned before that I have a tendency to be more-than-a-little complacent in my Canadian-ness. I love this country (most of the time, anyway). We have it great here- certainly in comparison with other places in this wide world- but that reality can, and does, lead to apathy. It’s not apathy with any sort of animosity, but it is still apathy.
Watching various news feeds and tweets from the Twitterverse over the past couple of days, I admit to some bemusement, stemming from a latent, well-meaning, sense of moral superiority. Same-sex marriage has been legal here for 10 years- a happy milestone we celebrated recently. Toronto is basking in the afterglow of association since the wonderful, brave, incomparable Ms. Edie and her life partner were married here, as it was not permitted in their home state at the time. Can’t blame us- it is nice to be associated- however remotely- with something positive for a change.
It is easy to forget, when one surrounds oneself with like-minded individuals as one has a tendency to do, that important-if-taken-for-granted things like equality and respect are not an ideological ‘given’ for large portions of the population- even here in Canada (don’t get me started on the putative mayor of this town again. Just don’t). The noise of the preparations being made for this year’s Pride celebrations is a joyful backdrop as I walk the neighbourhood this week. It’s enough to drown out the prejudices of some of those around me- people I have to spend time with by circumstance of environment rather than choice.
The positive voices in response to the SCOTUS decision by FAR outweigh the naysayers- at least in my chosen circles- but the ‘nays’ are there and, as ever, ready to thump a bible in support of their willful blindness to that which is morally and politically the right answer.
That EVERYONE is entitled to the same rights and freedoms under our SECULAR laws.
In a lovely piece for the Washington Post, that maven of the interworld, Mr. Sulu, cited the biblically-based ‘reasoning’ for attacks on same-sex relationships. Discussing those who attempt to ‘justify’ their homophobic stance through use of the ancient text, he writes:
“(they) turn to the Bible, perhaps because science doesn’t lead to the conclusion that homosexuality is unnatural… But references to the Bible or other religious texts are not a solid footing on which to base notions of traditional marriage. Concerns about the separation of Church and State aside, traditional marriage has never been what its homophobic proponents believe.”
All true, largely because they never actually take into account the context in which such texts were written and meant to be followed. Assuming they’ve even read them in their entirety, that is. And THAT’s a mighty big assumption.
So. Did the Ancients condemn homosexuality as categorically as prejudiced pundits would have us believe? Gather ’round children and we’ll take a glimpse into their myths- and the contextual reasoning behind them…
Let’s begin with Gilgamesh. (I know, not him AGAIN– but the Mesopotamia Exhibit at the ROM began last week and I can’t seem to get that there King of Uruk out of my head.) Since I’ve already briefly recounted his story I won’t do so again, except to say that his relationship with Enkidu has been interpreted in many circles as being more than one of simple comrades-in-arms.
Enkidu is adopted as another son by Gilgamesh’s mother and the gods show him great favour and celebrate his relationship with the King. Gilgamesh’s grief at his death is overwhelming and is the catalyst that sets him off on his quest to circumvent the laws of nature so that he can bring his partner back from the dead. The intensity of the relationship is palpable throughout their travels together, and Gilgamesh’s failed quest. His last conversation with Enkidu’s shade is heart-wrenching.
The Ancient Mesopotamians referenced androgynous humans in their stories- among them, the priests in of the goddess Innana. They were purposely-created by the god Enki to fulfill this specifically-ordered purpose. As can be seen in myths like the creation story Enuma Elish and the Descent of Innana into the Underworld, men ‘acting as women’ were not only not shunned, they were elevated to positions of power within the society.
Those examples not overt enough for you? Let’s move to Greece.
All garish clichés aside, Greek mythology and philosophical literature is filled with examples of same-sex relationships. It is so much the norm in their stories and the structure of their culture that one of their creation myths suggests that while engaged in the ongoing act of creation, Prometheus, while drunk, created some humans with the ‘wrong genitalia’. Etiologies- stories that explain the origin of things like natural phenomena- about same-sex inclinations or androgyny would not have been required if these things were not commonplace occurrences.
Other myths that include the celebration of same-sex relationships include the stories of Zeus and Ganymede, Apollo and Hyacinth (who was beloved of both the sun-god and the West Wind, Zephyr), Heracles and Hylas and Hermes and Krokus, to name but a very few. These stories demonstrate that the gods AND the greatest human heroes were subject to both homosexual and heterosexual attractions.
Sappho was a 7th century BCE poet who wrote of passion and love for both sexes, although she has become more associated with writings about same-sex pairings. Her name, and that of her island homeland, have become directly equated with same-sex love among women.
I could continue to cite examples from Australia, Oceania, India, China, Japan and on and on and on…
But the environments and cultures that influenced biblical mythology were those of the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean areas, so in the next post we will move onward to discuss the ammo that the homophobic lobby tends to misfire most frequently…