John Boswell: A gay classicist and college president who assisted Boswell in his research on gay history gets married





[Ralph Hexter, the president of Hampshire College, married his longtime partner September 1. They announced the news this week, which was reported at the website, InsiderHigherEd.com.]

... For Hexter, the marriage also marks a personal milestone that relates to an important part of his scholarly career. While he was at Yale, he was a close friend and colleague of John Boswell, a historian whose two books on gay history in medieval Europe are considered to have been path-breaking for gay history. Hexter, a classicist, at various times helped with research and proofreading for both works, and especially worked on translations of documents in Greek.

The second book, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, argued that not only had male couples formed partnerships for centuries, but that these partnerships had been blessed in church ceremonies. While the book was praised by some historians for its discovery of long forgotten ceremonies, the work outraged Roman Catholic leaders and many opponents of gay rights. It was published in 1994, the same year Boswell died from complications from AIDS. It fell to Hexter, as a collaborator, to do some of the public speaking and letter writing defending Boswell.

“The book was very poorly treated when it came out, and was dismissed by many,” Hexter said, because they just couldn’t grasp the idea of same-sex unions. “It was at a time of organized resistance to the gay rights movement.”

While the debate over gay marriage today still has plenty to frustrate Hexter, he said his announcement and the push for gay unions in several states show how much progress has been made. Some of that is because people’s views were challenged by Boswell’s book. “I don’t think we would be where we are with marriage today without that book,” he said.


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