One of America's first same-sex marriages: A 200-year-old story

Charity Bryant only intended to stay a few days in Weybridge, Vt., a tiny rural town with little to hold her attention. But then she met Sylvia Drake.

Drake was 22 — a talented, literary-minded woman in search of a kindred spirit. Bryant, seven years her senior, was brilliant, charismatic and exactly the kind of partner Drake had been looking for. The two fell swiftly, madly in love. Within months, Bryant rented a one-room apartment and asked Drake to become her roommate and wife.

It may sound like something from a 21st-century vows column, but this romance predates most newspapers’ style sections — by about two centuries.

“Our popular narrative of same-sex marriage says it’s this brand new thing,” said Rachel Hope Cleves, an associate professor of history at the University of Victoria and the author of a new study in the latest issue of the Journal of American History chronicling 500 years of same-sex unions in the United States. “But the reality is that it came over with human migration” — contrary, for example, to Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s comment during oral arguments on California’s Proposition 8 case that it’s an “institution which is newer than cellphones or the Internet.”

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