I recently obtained a copy of a British newspaper published in 2025, which discussed the country’s favorite television program in that year. The reviewer gives a crisp summary of the latest incarnation of Downton Abbey, and the episode in question is a crowd-pleaser. Everything is bustling in the historic English mansion in 1925, as butlers, cooks, and maids prepare for the long-awaited day when Lord Michael will marry his beloved fiancé, Sir David Fitzwalter. Oh, the romance, the humor, and all the last-minute crises! The actual wedding, at the cathedral high altar, represents Anglican liturgy at its most glorious.
Regrettably, notes the reviewer, some hate-filled old fogeys have felt the need to blight the day by protesting that same-sex marriage did not actually exist in the 1920’s in England, or indeed anywhere on the planet. Nor did the Church of England ever approve such a thing in that era. The show’s producers have responded lightly to the nitpickers, saying that perhaps they have also taken liberties with the exact model and color of the limousine, as if such trivia really mattered to nonspecialists.
More substantially, mainstream academics have responded sharply to the naysayers, pointing out how wildly their homophobic views contradicted the mass of recent historical findings about the lengthy history of same-sex marriage throughout the civilized world. In conclusion, notes the reviewer, Parliament is now contemplating strict laws limiting the public expression of Same-Sex Denialism.
Perhaps 2025 might be a little too early for this scenario, but the basic framework is already taking shape. In just two decades, the Western world has undergone a revolutionary transformation in its definition of marriage and sexual relationships, as same-sex marriage has moved from the realm of ultraradical fantasy to mainstream practice and social near-orthodoxy. All that remains to complete the revolution is to accomplish Orwell’s dictum: Whoever controls the present controls the past, and whoever controls the past controls the future. Not only must same-sex marriage be institutionalized (and even consecrated) and its critics silenced, but it must be shown that this situation has, in a sense, always existed.
At this point, like the critics of my future Downton Abbey, you may raise a minor cavil—namely, that such a claim would be totally spurious, and a gross violation of anything resembling historical fact. If you believe that such an objection poses any real obstacle to the process of mass re-education, then you clearly don’t spend enough time with academic historians.
Last January, the Guardian published an opening salvo in this campaign with a lengthy essay by respected historian Faramerz Dabhoiwala on “The Secret History of Same-Sex Marriage.” Dabhoiwala challenges the crude assumption that same-sex marriage “is a quintessentially 21st-century issue. In fact such formal unions have a long and fascinating history.” Let me repeat that. He is not referring to the countless instances we can find through history where same-sex couples lived together for many years in cozy domestic relationships. Rather, he is asserting that formal unions—in fact, marriages—have an authentic history hitherto unrecognized by most historians, and that these arrangements have existed for centuries.
Dabhoiwala’s argument is jaw-dropping in its rhetoric as much as in its substantive conclusions. He notes that valid marriage itself has never relied wholly on legal approval, provided that it was recognized by the community, and he uses the illustration of slave marriages in the antebellum United States. And just when you are nodding your head and wondering where the author is going with this uncontroversial theme, you find that he is extending that principle to same-sex relationships.
This recalls the outrageous fantasist John Boswell who, in a notorious 1994 book, argued that the medieval Church had frequently blessed same-sex unions. Competent historians then replied that, no, these relationship were not marriages in any sense, but were forms of sworn brotherhood, which commonly emerged to resolve bitter feuds and vendettas. It is an open question whether Boswell actually knew that he was misinterpreting evidence, or was simply carried away by wishful thinking.
Dabhoiwala acknowledges that those particular cases indeed constituted sworn brotherhood. Nevertheless, he argues at length for the widespread prevalence of genuine, approved same–sex marriage among women, across Protestant Western Europe, and over several centuries. He can indeed produce several cases of such “female husbands,” but in virtually every case, a woman donned male clothing sufficiently convincingly to persuade a pastor to carry out a wedding service. And this, he declares, constitutes evidence of formal Church approval of gay marriage.
In coming months and years, we can expect a great many more articles and books on the theme, as history is rewritten before our eyes.