Marriage equality has a surprising role model in Saint Valentine, a 3rd-century Roman priest who defied the restrictive marriage laws of his era to bless couples who were forbidden to marry. His feast day is, of course, Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14).
Saint Valentine was not gay, but he put love above the law to perform outlaw marriages in his day. He can be an inspiration for the current movement to legalize same-sex marriage.
The Roman Emperor Claudius II thought that he would get more and better soldiers if men were not allowed to marry, so he issued a decree outlawing marriage. Saint Valentine (or Valentinus in Latin) continued to perform weddings in secret until he was arrested and executed for defying the ban on such marriages. Legend has it that he fell in love with a woman who visited him in prison, sending her a letter that ended “From your Valentine” — the original prototype for today’s Valentine greeting cards.
There are at least 12 saints named Valentine (including a woman martyr called Saint Valentina). The many stories about them overlap and are hard to verify, so the Roman Catholic Church removed Saint Valentine from its general calendar in 1969, while still allowing local celebrations. Saint Valentine (or Valentinos) is commemorated in the Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox traditions, although not always on Feb. 14. Relics of Saint Valentine are enshrined at churches across Europe, including the Greek island of Lesbos.
Saint Valentine also did weddings for Christian couples at a time when the church was persecuted. Now the tables are turned and conservative Christians are sometimes persecuting LGBTQ people. They are among the most visible opponents of marriage equality.
But brave clergy are following in the footsteps of St. Valentine. They pioneered the blessing of same-sex relationships long before it was on the secular political agenda and continue to face punishment for defying marriage laws. For example, Troy Perry performed what may be the first modern same-sex wedding in 1969, a year after he founded the LGBTQ-affirming Metropolitan Community Churches. In a more recent case, Presbyterian lesbian minister Jane Spahr was censured in 2012 by the Presbyterian Church for marrying 16 same-sex couples during the brief period when such marriages were legal in California.
I wrote the following LGBTQ Saint Valentine Prayer when a friend requested prayers as the Church of England considered same-sex marriage on Feb. 15, 2017. They voted to continue study debate, so the need for prayer is ongoing.
Dear Saint. Valentine,
help everyone to find and keep
their true God-appointed love.
Guide the church to affirm and bless
all those whom God has joined together,
regardless of their sexual orientation
or gender identity.
Saint Valentine, pray for us.
While Saint Valentine is not known to have performed same-sex weddings, church history does provide powerful examples of same-sex couples to inspire today’s lovers — whether or not we have the right to marry. Links to some of them are listed below. Happy Valentine’s Day!
St. Valentine: The politics of love, rights and same-sex marriages (Nigerian Voice)
To read this article in Russian, go to:
Святой Валентин и брачное равноправие (nuntiare.org)
Top image credit: Saint Valentinus mosaic, photo by CafeCesura
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.
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