I Now Pronounce You Knight and Knight

15th-century Europe allowed civil unions

By Colleen Barry,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 28, 2007 9:41 AM CDT

(Newser) – The 21st-century social and political trend of same-sex civil unions has roots that go back a bit beyond Stonewall—to the Middle Ages. A history professor who analyzed legal documents and gravesites says medieval law was flexible enough to allow for a variety of non-nuclear family structures, including gay unions, LiveScience reports.

French men could enter an affrèrement—roughly, "brotherment"—to join their homes and property. "I suspect that some of these relationships were sexual, while others may not have been," says the professor, whose work appears in the Journal of Modern History. "It is impossible to prove either way and probably also somewhat irrelevant to understanding their way of thinking."

Gay Couples Celebrate New Jersey Civil Unions Law
Gay Couples Celebrate New Jersey Civil Unions Law   (Getty Images)
Two men are joined in a civil union.
Two men are joined in a civil union.   (KRT Photos)
USA. Provincetown, Massachusetts. May 17, 2004. A couple in front of Town Hall after receiving their wedding permit. (NYC36931)
USA. Provincetown, Massachusetts. May 17, 2004. A couple in front of Town Hall after receiving their wedding permit. (NYC36931)   (Magnum Photos)
USA. Provincetown, Massachusetts. May 17, 2004. A couple in front of Town Hall after receiving their wedding permit. (NYC36926)
USA. Provincetown, Massachusetts. May 17, 2004. A couple in front of Town Hall after receiving their wedding permit. (NYC36926)   (Magnum Photos)
The flexibility of medieval law allowed for a variety of non-traditional families, including civil unions resembling those of today.
The flexibility of medieval law allowed for a variety of non-traditional families, including civil unions resembling those of today.   (Archival)
Hungarian lesbian couple, Kinga, right, and Eva, left, wave a rainbow flag in front of the River Danube and the Parliament building, as they celebrate during the first symbolic gay marriage in Budapest, Hungary Saturday, July 14, 2007.  A large public debate started in Hungary on whether to give the...
Hungarian lesbian couple, Kinga, right, and Eva, left, wave a rainbow flag in front of the River Danube and the Parliament building, as they celebrate during the first symbolic gay marriage in Budapest,...   (Associated Press)
Hungarian lesbian couple, Kinga, left, and Eva, right, kiss  in front of the River Danube and the Parliament building during the first symbolic gay marriage in Budapest, Hungary Saturday, July 14, 2007. A large public debate started in Hungary to give the right of marriage to gay couples or not,...
Hungarian lesbian couple, Kinga, left, and Eva, right, kiss in front of the River Danube and the Parliament building during the first symbolic gay marriage in Budapest, Hungary Saturday, July 14, 2007....   (Associated Press)
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