A ritual text for gay marriages

Androgyne, detail on ancient greek amphora.

“so ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man” — Plato, the fable of Aristophanes from the Symposium


There is currently no standard ritual text for gay marriages for the obvious reason that such marriages have been forbidden and, as a consequence, a public ceremony having the function of liturgy (rites and duties in religious worship) has not developed. In places where gay marriages have been permitted by state authorities the ceremonial language of the marriage either mimics marriages for the union of heterosexual couples, is provided by a helpful marriage celebrant, or is composed by the couple seeking to be married. There are many examples of new texts for gay marriages.

Androgyne, detail on ancient greek amphora.
Androgyne, detail on ancient greek amphora.

It is sometimes said that the advantage of religious rituals for marriage is that they are grounded in traditions that span centuries. By contrast modern rituals for gay marriages, especially if they are composed by the celebrant or participants, do not normally refer to ancient texts. So, we are in the habit of thinking that there are no beautiful ancient texts that could form part of a rite for gay marriages. That is not true.

The core of this ritual text for gay marriages is a version of the fable of Aristophanes, which is recorded in Plato’s Symposium. It is the original text of the fable that tells the story of the origin of human desire and the meaning of love: we were once a different kind of being, cut in half by the gods, and therefore always destined to search for that lost part of ourselves.

The ritual may have any cultural characteristics the participants wish: they can choose any location, costume, music, specific vows, or ritual actions borrowed from their personal, religious history (such as the breaking of glasses). In particular, those parts of the Catholic religious ritual that refer to scripture have been removed.

Stephen J. Williams

Ritual text for gay marriage

The persons to be married choose how they are introduced to those invited to participate in the ceremony, and the wording of the promises (vows).

Celebrant says:

[Full name of person to be married] and [Full name of person to be married] welcome you all to the celebration of their marriage.

Our original nature was not like the present, but different. We know that the sexes were not two, but three—man, woman, and the union of the two—just as the sun, the earth and the moon are three.

In our original nature we were all bound at the back and sides, forming a circle, to the other half of ourselves.

Neither gods nor nature suffer our insolence to be unrestrained. And, so, they made a plan to humble our pride and improve our manners. To diminish our strength they cut us in two, and gave us, each, a neck that could be turned to contemplate the part of ourselves that was lost. Through this we were to learn humility.

Separated from the other part of our true selves, these two parts of [man/woman], each desiring [his/her] other half, come together, throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one. The desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, is the ancient and healing state of every person.

Each of us now separated from the other part of our true selves is but the indenture of a [man/woman], and [he/she] is always looking for [his/her] other half.

We are prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to us. And when one of us meets with [his/her] other half, the actual half of [himself/herself], the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and would not be out of the other’s sight even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole lives together; yet they could not explain what they desire of one another.

Please face one another.

Do you [name of person to be married] take this [man/woman] to be your lawfully wedded [husband/wife], promise to keep [him/her], love and comfort [him/her], in sickness and in health, whether you are rich or poor, and to be kind and faithful to [him/her] for the rest of your life?

Person to be married says:

I do.

Celebrant says:

Do you [name of other person to be married] take this [man/woman] to be your lawfully wedded [husband/wife], promise to keep [him/her], love and comfort [him/her], in sickness and in health, whether you are rich or poor, and to be kind and faithful to [him/her] for the rest of your life?

Other person to be married says:

I do.

Celebrant says:

Do you have rings?

Person to be married says:

[Name], I give you this ring, a symbol of my promises and love.

Other person to be married says:

[Name], I give you this ring, a symbol of my promises and love.

Celebrant says:

We praise Love, our greatest benefactor, which both leads us in this life back to our own nature, and gives us high hopes for the future, for Love promises that if we are worthy, it will restore us to our original state, and heal us and make us happy.

I pronounce you married. You may kiss.

This document is a work in progress and I welcome constructive comments to improve it. Originally published in 2006, this is version 2.0 (Monday 14 December 2015). Shortlink: http://wp.me/p5OAfE-Iw 


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Woolf, el-Sisi, Abbott and boy bands

Trying to imagine what she calls ‟that anonymous monster the Man in the Street,” Virginia Woolf visualised ‟a vast, featureless, almost shapeless jelly of human stuff … occasionally wobbling this way or that as some instinct of hate, revenge, or admiration bubbles up beneath it.” The argument about whether such views make Woolf a bad person has been raging for a long while, and assume that we know what she meant by the remarks at all. I thought about them again when I saw Australian prime minister Tony Abbott shaking hands with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, president of Egypt.

Abbott excuses el-Sisi. “President el-Sisi is a reluctant jailer here. He wasn’t the president when Peter Greste and his colleagues were arrested,” Mr Abbott told ABC Radio. Abbott and el-Sisi know, I think, how Woolf’s shapeless jelly can be made to wobble with just a little push; and how little the jelly knows about who or what is doing the pushing.

PM Tony Abbott and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
PM Tony Abbott and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Many in Australia think that the current government is trading in distractions when burqas push war, privacy, performance and promises off the front pages of papers. [As it turns out, the plan to put burqas behind glass partitions in parliament was not an intentional distraction, but rather the panicked response to a rumor that the parliament was about to be disrupted by a posse of burqa-clad protesters.] El-Sisi has been accused of the same thing. An economic mess, power failures, rising taxes, and a government’s desire not to be seen as the morally soft option, all add up to a social climate in which minorities are easily scapegoated.

Whether by design or chance, Egypt is in the grip of an anti-gay hysteria. This hysteria now has a catchy anthem and a video.

A boy band, imaginatively called ‘Boy Band’, sings its confusion caused by ‟soft men” who wear tight jeans. The lyrics of its anti-gay song use words that pun on the Arabic equivalent of ‘faggots’ (see note, below). Three men burst into a room. They have their serious faces on. They begin to rifle through the belongings of a person, presumably the man in the photo on the wall. The video looks like a police raid set to music. (فمن مداهمة قامت بها الشرطة مع الموسيقى.)


In Australia we are worried about burqas. In Egypt they are worried about tight red jeans. I notice now that both Abbott and el-Sisi are wearing dark suits and blue ties.

Egypt: Eight men sentenced to three years in prison for ‘gay wedding’ video

Written by Chris Johnston and published in The Guardian on 2 November 2014:

A court in Egypt has sentenced eight men to three years in prison for appearing in a video that purported to show a gay wedding.

The video, which became an online hit after it was posted on YouTube in September, shows two men kissing, exchanging rings and embracing among cheering friends.

It was filmed at a birthday party held on a boat on the Nile.

The sentences, which can be appealed, were met with uproar from the families of the defendants, who demonstrated outside the court in central Cairo and were dispersed by police.

The defendants, who had denied the charges, stood silent in the courtroom cage as the verdict was read, one of them holding up a copy of the Qur’an.

The eight were arrested in September when Egypt’s chief prosecutor decided that the video was “shameful to God” and “offensive to public morals”.

At the last hearing, on 11 October, a spokesman for the justice ministry’s forensics department insisted the men were innocent.

“The entire case is made up and lacks basis. The police did not arrest them red-handed and the video does not prove anything,” Hesham Abdel Hamed said.

“The medical test showed that the eight defendants have not practised homosexuality recently or in the past.”

He was referring to anal examinations, a long-standing practice in Egypt that Human Rights Watch has condemned.

The New-York-based lobby group had called for the men be released.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, but it is a social taboo, and allegedly gay men have often been arrested on charges of immorality.

In the most notorious example, 52 men were arrested in 2001 for their perceived sexuality, in what became known as the Queen Boat case.

In April, four men were convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for “debauchery” after allegedly holding gay sex parties where women’s clothing and makeup were found.

Human Rights Watch said in September that Egyptian authorities had repeatedly arrested and tortured men suspected of having gay sex.

Saturday’s sentences are the latest in a crackdown by authorities against gay people and atheists.

The campaign also targets liberal and pro-democracy activists and anyone who breaks a draconian law on street protests.

Note: The lyrics use the word “khawagat” in a pun linked to the term ‘khawalat’ (a plural noun), the equivalent of ‘faggots’ in English. In traditional Arabic ‘Khawal‘ is a man who has been taught and performs belly-dancing routines. In modern Egyptian slang it is an attack on a man’s sexual identity.

Literary-hetero-potentates Rule, OK?

Robert Dessaix (ed.): Australian Gay and Lesbian Writing; An Anthology (Oxford University Press).

The title is wrong, of course, and the stupid scandal, which the book’s promoters no doubt thought a coup, could have been avoided, if anyone wanted to avoid it, by naming the book honestly. Not an anthology of gay and lesbian writing, this is a collection of writing about gays and lesbians. And, either way you look at it, an inadequate one.

The “literary association of homosexuality”, Dessaix writes in his introduction, “with an abnormal closed social system [of Australia’s convict period] has given Australian writers the freedom to explore homosexuality by locating it inside other kinds of microcosms — in particular prisons, boarding-schools, ships, the armed-services and hospitals.” I don’t get it. What sort of “freedom” is that? A literary association with the abnormal and the closed gives writers a freedom to explore homosexuality by locating it in other kinds of microcosms, which also happen to be (it can’t be by chance!) abnormal and closed systems. This freedom, which does not look to me like a freedom at all, is apparently the same sort of freedom that allows Dessaix to put Patrick White and Elizabeth Jolley into the same category of “mainstream writers, none of whom would have identified themselves as ‘gay’…” The problem with White is that, although his homosexuality was not his ‘identification’, he did not hide it; he is the prime example of a ‘gay’ writer whose subject matter does not line up neatly behind his sexuality.

And that is Dessaix’s — and his anthology’s — problem. This anthology is a demonstration of how narrow the concerns of gay writers can seem if one starts with the (unspoken) premise that gay writers are writers who write from the position of their sexual preference about matters relating to that preference. The truth is, of course, that gay writers and their writing in Australia are not limited in this way; and White is only one of the proofs of this.

It would not have been hard to construct an anthology of writing by gay writers, men and women, that included work about heterosexual relationships and everything else. Such an anthology would have had the double advantage of showing that gay writers write about more than sex and their own sexuality, and of being a true anthology of gay writing. Instead, Dessaix retells the big lie: when gay writers write about sex they are writing about sex; when straight writers write about sex they are writing about life.

This first major error leads Dessaix into others, equally damaging. He asks, for example, since much gay writing (by men) is short and fragmentary (so he claims), whether the form of the novel is “inherently heterosexual, unconsciously based on heterosexual paradigms about the generation of meaning through heterosexual coupling and reproduction …” David Leavitt, who provides a blurb for the book, might have thought this funny, if he read it at all. At least four important Australian novelists might at any time wander onstage and spoil Dessaix’s fantasy. Literature, after all, is the business of stating untestable truths; but I am not so sure we should allow anthologists the same licence.

And why shouldn’t Australia’s literary-hetero-potentates be allowed to put their shoulders to the wheel of gayness? Supporters implore prospective purchasers to consider their commitment to the higher good of good writing, which is to be enjoyed despite the anthology’s short-comings. Leaving aside the real scandal that would greet an anthology of aboriginal writing that had whities in it, or the realler scandal of an anthology of writing about aboriginals that forgot to include great slabs of beautifully written bigotry — it is true that this anthology contains some fine writing. Dessaix must be praised for that, and for finding and acknowledging Jon Rose’s At the Cross: Growing Up in King’s Cross, Sydney’s Soho, though he does not publish any of it, I suppose because the permissions could not be obtained. He has chosen a good part of Dennis Altman’s The Comfort of Men, a book that is nearly important, and would have been, had it found a good editor. Peter Rose, Dorothy Porter and David Herkt make significant contributions to the weight of the poetry (a good deal of which is slight and clichéd).

There are also mistakes. Dessaix thinks that Nigel Krauth’s novel, JF Was Here, is “brilliant.” I’m not convinced. I laughed out loud when I got to part describing the “club-club of fearful hearts”; and this book is infamous for its crass depiction of how someone dies of AIDS.

Dessaix chooses a non-chronological approach in order to avoid, he would have you believe, the trek from oppression to celebration (as though Dessaix’s battalion of hetero-potentates would know anything about that!). AIDS does not figure in that appallingly simple-minded reckoning. The non-chronological presentation serves the interests of Dessaix’s preference to depict homosexuals as transgressive, asocial outcasts. He has simply left out much of the best new writing available for him to publish.

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