With the legalization of same sex marriages in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom—as well as India’s decriminalization of homosexual practices—the issue drops down to the various religious communities that have often opposed the idea. The Jathedars (leaders) of the Sikh Community have taken a strong stance against homosexual marriages amongst Sikhs because it is not a concept approved or recognized in the Panthik Rehat Maryada (Code of Conduct) or in the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Several months ago, during an interfaith discussion, a non-Sikh asked, “How do Sikhs feel about gay and lesbian unions?”
The person at the front of the room shifted weight from one foot to another, smiled perhaps a little nervously and then confidently stated that Sikhi teaches equality and nondiscriminatory treatment of all individuals despite their social or sexual orientation. The answer was not incorrect in any way, but I do feel that the original question was evaded this way. I was disturbed, but I didn’t know why.
I think I must have mulled over the situation a thousand times before coming to the realization that the answer given to that question about same sex marriages was defensive in nature. It’s true that Sikhs believe in treating everybody equally. That’s a rule that a Sikh should adhere to when interacting with anybody, anywhere in the world. The Sikh religion is very accepting of difference, we believe in living and letting others live how they choose. However, that does not mean we should adopt and integrate outside beliefs into our faith.
The relationships accepted in Gurmat are that between parents and children, siblings, friends, and husband and wife. The words “dhan” and “pir” are prevalent in Gurbani, meaning husband and wife, respectively. Marriage is clearly defined by Guru Amar Das Ji as follows:
ਧਨ ਪਿਰੁ ਏਹਿ ਨ ਆਖੀਅਨਿ ਬਹਨਿ ਇਕਠੇ ਹੋਇ ॥
ਏਕ ਜੋਤਿ ਦੁਇ ਮੂਰਤੀ ਧਨ ਪਿਰੁ ਕਹੀਐ ਸੋਇ ॥੩॥
They are not said to be husband and wife, who merely sit together.
They alone are called husband and wife, who have one light in two bodies. ||3||
Despite knowing that Bani is not limited to translation and definition, I do believe that Guru Sahib clarifies in these two lines that a marriage is between a man and woman, husband and wife. Guru Sahib further instructs us Sikhs to go beyond the worldly relationship and unite our soul with the one we’re married to.
I think the most wonderful thing about being Sikh is having Gurus who showed us how to live—they lived the way they wanted to see their Sikhs living. Our Gurus were householders, grihstis.If the example of nine gurus isn’t enough, there are countless Gursikhs who dedicated their lives for the Sikh panth. While many of these Gursikhs were married, there were those who chose to remain unmarried. The lives of all these kindred spirits are guides for the modern Sikh. If homosexual relations were permitted or present in the yesteryear Sikh community, I’m sure there would be some mention of it in our various historical accounts or Gurbani itself. It’s very unlikely that incomparable historians of the panth such as Kavi Santokh Singh Ji, Sardar Rattan Singh Ji Bhangu, Bhai Vir Singh Ji, Dr. Ganda Singh Ji, and Principal Satbir Singh Ji would manipulate history for their own beliefs against homosexuality. My point here is that the issue of same sex marriages has never been a panthik issue—exposure to Western culture and our own failures have allowed this matter to seep into Sikhi discussions. In fact, this may be true of any relationship outside of a traditional marriage.
Yes, Sikhs believe in justice for all. This belief would also extend to the human rights of all individuals, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, lifestyle, or ideology. Human rights however do not equal an entitlement to those same freedoms within the realm of a specific religion. If this were the case, we would be arguing about why the Panj Pyare (Five Beloved Ones) should to be Amritdhari before being permitted to administer Amrit to others; if all human beings are equal, then why can’t someone who drinks, uses drugs, and cuts their hair be a part of the Panj Pyare?
It has been part of our history to not push our beliefs onto others, we live and let live. Then why are we succumbing to the pressures of others’ beliefs? If someone chooses a certain sexual orientation, it is their prerogative to do so. A true Sikh should not judge, hate, or discriminate against that individual at the human level. A true Sikh should extend the same kindness and common courtesy to this person as they would to anybody else—they are still our brothers and sisters. This does not mean that our traditions and Rehat Maryada need to be altered to accommodate individuals’ personal choices.
Sikh ideology was never outdated and has remained ahead of the times for more than five hundred years. Over the course of these centuries, our basic principles have upheld despite changing fashions, politics, and cultures. I request my brothers and sisters to stand up for anybody that is being mistreated, but to also stand by the values of their priceless and timeless faith.
Navdeep Kaur is a Sikh American writer currently obtaining her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from San Jose State University. More of her work can be viewed at http://aarsi-reflections.blogspot.com/ or connect with her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/authorkaur.