Gay Marriage, Sikhi, and the Repeal of DOMA

Advocates of gay rights celebrated after the Obama administration in late February said that it would no longer support the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that bans the recognition of same-sex marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.

The Obama administration, however, believes DOMA is unconstitutional.

President Barack Obama has concluded that the administration cannot defend the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. He noted that the congressional debate during passage of the Defense of Marriage Act “contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships – precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the (Constitution’s) Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against.” (link)

Although I take issue with the state having a role in defining what is and isn’t a legitimate relationship in general (and one’s romantic relationship defining whether or not they get access to certain benefits and privileges), I applaud the administration taking this strong stance against homophobic bigotry. So, I was disappointed (though not terribly surprised) to hear that the World Sikh Council, a “representative and elected body of Sikh Gurdwaras and institutions in the US,” has been lobbying the Obama administration to uphold DOMA and went so far as to co-sign a letter of protest to President Obama denouncing his decision to reverse DOMA. The letter states:

While the traditional definition of marriage has faced legal and popular challenges of late, a clear majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage and have expressed their support of marriage as the union of one man and one woman in all 31 state referenda and initiatives where the issue has been raised. The definition of marriage is one of the central questions facing our society today. The American people do not want their wishes being overruled by the judiciaryor the executive…

We implore you to lead the House to take the important, necessary step to protect American law, American families, and American values by defending DOMA and protecting the true meaning of marriage.

It is a shame to see a Sikh institution aligning itself with such reactionary and narrow-minded ideology, when Sikhi itself is quite the opposite: a freedom-seeking, loving, open-minded philosophy and way of life. “Ik Onkar” are the first words in the Guru Granth Sahib and the center of what it means to be a Sikh — Oneness of the Divine, Oneness of the Divine’s creation, Oneness of humanity. Our Gurus and our ancestors put everything on the line to create a world in which many worlds could exist — a world that is inclusive of all people, religions, and ways of life. A world in which all people were equal.

The World Sikh Council appears, in this case, to be fighting for a world quite contrary to this vision.

Sometimes when I have this conversation about gay rights with Sikhs, especially of my parents generation, they respond by saying, “This is not our issue,” as if to imply: 1) that all Sikhs are heterosexual and 2) that we’re only concerned about some people’s oppression and suffering, but not all.

To point one, this is far from reality. If it seems like you don’t know any gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender Sikhs, that might be because of the intense homophobia in our community. Just as in other religious communities, we have forced LGBT Sikhs to choose between their religion and their hearts. Clearly, this is not a dichotomy that should ever exist in Sikhi.

To point two, there’s not much more to say than Sarbat da Bhala. To anyone who believes that gay people are not deserving of our fight for the rights and well-being of ALL people, I would ask you to reflect upon Guru Nanak Sahib’s words:

Jaano Jot Na Puucho, Jaati Aagai Jaat Na Hai

Recognize the Divine light within all, and do not consider social class or status; there are no classes or castes in the world hereafter.

The oppression of LGBT people is one of the most pervasive and accepted forms of subjugation today. Indeed, many individuals and institutions deem LGBT people a lower class or caste — justifying their bigotry with dogmatic rhetoric of what’s “natural,” “normal,” and in the case of the above letter, what are true “American values.” This is no different than saying turbans are not truly American, so Sikhs should not be allowed to wear them in public (or, more appropriately, not truly French). Or saying Sikhs do not make up their own sovereign religion and identity, but are really just an arm of Hinduism. Oppression is oppression. The Khalsa was created to obliterate it.

 


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30 Responses to “Gay Marriage, Sikhi, and the Repeal of DOMA”

  1. K Singh says:

    Brilliantly written piece. I totally agree. It's brave to talk about such a huge taboo in our society and take such a strong view point.

  2. h kaur says:

    great article!

  3. Jovangeet says:

    Well said… Sikhi is about love for all people!

  4. h s says:

    Blah blah blah…hypocritical to the core…liberal lickers!!

  5. Dayapreet says:

    H S.. Please explain how this is hypocritical.. I don’t think you were paying attention to the title of this site.. PROGRESSIVE Sikh Blog.

  6. h s says:

    @Dayapreet: BTW, that was obvious and blatant. I didn't have to read PROGRESSIVE to construe one sided liberal agendas on this website.

    Hypocritical was meant to be as against something what you preach on this website (and sikhchic.com) day in and day out about Sikh principles. Why give importance to hairs and turban and teachings of Gurus, when all you do is choose and reject those things which are convenient to your political/social beliefs. I don't have to tell you that some of the issues that you and sikhchic.com embrace on their websites, are against the common sense/social beliefs, however by standing for on this topic (and ofcourse some other liberal agendas you carry on this website) you prove that you will pick and choose only those issues which are convenient to YOUR social/political beliefs, even though they might not be true as per the baani or common sense understanding of the teachings of Gurus or any God believer for that matter.

    Gay live-ins are OK and that's one issue, however Gay marriage doesn't makes sense at all. However, neither of those things concern me for that matter btw. I only commented to point out your hypocrisy which spurts out because of your intermixing/indulgence of liberal political/social agendas with Sikhism. Stick to what this site is meant for.

    On another note relating to similar issue, the site that you Sikhs are promoting about Sikh LGBT's i.e. some sarbat.com (not sure about the exact url, saw it long back through Sikhchic.com's article), go there and have a look at what's cooking on there – did you? Hookups, orgies planning etc. Sure you guys love that, right? Right now you Sikhs are making Sikhism to what the present generation of Christianity already suffers – sunday organizing for socials, porn sundays etc, i.e. in essence irrelevance in name of so called religion. Take care dude/dudette!

  7. h s says:

    @Dayapreet:

    "It is a shame to see a Sikh institution aligning itself with such reactionary and narrow-minded ideology, when Sikhi itself is quite the opposite: a freedom-seeking, loving, open-minded philosophy and way of life"

    Really?? Narrow-minded ideology? You really think that keeping hairs and beard and following all things asked to be followed as a Sikh and aligning oneself with any religion is a BROAD-MINDED IDEOLOGY? Don't insult the Gurus, yourself, me and also many Sikhs by saying this no-sense-at-all sentence!!!!

    • brooklynwala says:

      Yes really, I do see the "Defense of marriage" movement as reactionary and narrow-minded. What is marriage defending itself against? The biggest threat to marriage is divorce, not gay people.

      And yes, I do see Sikhi as an open-minded way of life, though many Sikhs (and Sikh institutions) themselves are quite narrow-minded ironically.

      • kantay says:

        do you believe in any way that keeping hair is a vital aspect of sikhi from the aspect of seeking the gyan/knowledge in gurbani? If so, that does not square with the liberal tradition from which the absolutely just movement for gay marriage comes from. The move toward gay marriage is foremost a development of the liberal tradition.

        • brooklynwala says:

          I'm not following how keeping kesh and gay marriage are opposed to each other. Is that what you're saying?

          • kantay says:

            Nope, not at all.

            What I'm saying is the movement for gay marriage is the same movement that would be in opposition but tolerant to requirements of religious dress like keeping hair. So I'm wondering if you would hold a special dispensation for this requirement, or if you would support the idea that keeping hair or any specific religious injunction similar is not really in accord with the ideas otherwise being promoted

  8. Amma says:

    I totally agree. It’s brave to talk about such a huge issues in our society and take such a strong views.
    When I was reading the comments- what is HS talking about person being hypocritical ?

  9. Inderjag says:

    I think World Sikh Council is extremely unwise to make a statement in the area of U.S. politics that has no clear Sikh principle supporting it. I hope that Gurdwaras realize how far they are moving away from representing Sikhs.

  10. Pataka says:

    A fabulous article Brooklynwala. I often think those that have the strongest homophobic reactions are the most frightened of coming to grips with questioning their own feelings about desire, partnership and intimacy.

    Love this article. I am all for gay, lesbian, transgendered or transsexual partnership in any which form it manifests itself. And yes, I am a Sikh.

  11. Ravinder says:

    While I'm all for repeal of DOMA, I think a clarification is in order. As an American, I recognize that DOMA is inherently unconstitutional and has no place in a secular democracy. However, was wondering how far to take gay rights? Its one thing to suggest that the government should get out of our bedrooms, quite another to say that an Anand Karaj between two gay men should be something we should all endorse.
    In addition, Sarbat da Kala to me implies that no one should be *persecuted* or *forcibly* oppressed. Not so sure I could extend it to mean Sikhi-sanctioned gay marriages at our local gurudwara.
    To me, these are 2 separate issues: one of an over-reaching goverment and the 2nd being what to accept in our temples/places of worship. They are not mutually inclusive.
    Thoughts?

    • brooklynwala says:

      Absolutely an important distinction to make and I specifically and intentionally focused my post on the role of the state. That being said, religion too is an institution that can perpetuate oppression or fight oppression. So I would argue that it would very much be in line with Sikh philosophy and the concept of Ik Onkar to allow same sex couples access to Anand Karaj in gurdwaras. Is it not a form of persecution to not grant gay people access to Anand Karaj? Shouldn't our institutions be inclusive of LGBT Sikhs?

    • Harjinder Singh says:

      I find myself inclined to agree with Ravinder. I don't have a problem with people's flavour of sexuality however I confess to being very uncomfortable with the idea of a same sex marriage ceremony being performed inside a gurdwara. Now that could be due to my upbringing, culture, understanding whatever you want to call it but for whatever reason, at this point in time it does not sit right with me.

      The history of marriage is so long no one can even identify it's origin but what is clear is that it has always been the joining of man and woman. During the birth of all religions, I'm not aware of a same sex union ever taking place or being a matter for discussion, I'm happy for anyone to advise otherwise so I might better inform myself on the matter.

      What does appear to be happening is a very recent phenomenon of trying to compensate for our (by our, I mean the worlds) persecution of "non standard", shall we say, unions by granting them the same titles and descriptions as those of "standard". I'm all for treating everyone equally and with compassion and affording them protection and rights but if the union of components that make up a car is a car, then the union of components that make up an airplane does not become a car just because we want to afford it the same rules and regulations.

      Let same sex unions be acceptable but let's not call them marriage. That's not to discriminate but lets acknowledge they are different and should be "labeled" correctly if you like.

      There is an argument that one side is more judgmental then the other but looking at both arguments objectively I find both as dismissive and judgmental of the other. It does appear one argument fits into current society as the other did in the past. That doesn't mean one is right and the other is wrong, more it's just snapshot in time.

  12. GoSikh says:

    A very well written article.

    Has any Sikh felt discriminated against? has felt awkward? has received special attention at the Airport Security lines?
    If yes, then you know how one feels when they are punished for something they did not do.

    Simple rule:
    Every human is equal. Treat everyone with respect and if you have to, stand up for the rights of those who are being oppressed.

    I like what Gurumustuk said, waiting for the new sprouts to flourish.

    Guri

  13. kantay says:

    This simple rule has nothing specifically to do with gurbani. This is a basic liberal tradition that was for example an aspect of the the philosophic system of the founding fathers, with some modifications that even at the time could be acknowledged probably as necessary. These are great rules, its part of why the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence are so awesome. That's the issue with so much thats posted here – it's liberal thought with post-modern and critical theory thrown in and then a belated tag that these ideas also are sikh ideas – without sustained examination to provide evidence of that beyond almost the assumption that it must be true.

  14. moorakh88 says:

    Same sex marriages should have the same requirements of a traditional Punjabi wedding in India: Caste bar, dowry, and alcohol.

  15. Harinder says:

    The best part of these marriges is that Female Foeticide will stop amongst Punjabis for obvious reasons

  16. Traditionalist says:

    I have to say, while I agree that homosexuality isn't appropriate for practicing sikhs (aim of marriage is gristi jeevan to reach god and not about lust/emotional connections), we should unilaterally support the rights of non-heterosexual couples to receive the same rights and entitlements under law. As sikhs we supported Hindu's who's views are completely misaligned with our own beliefs. Why should we not support gays and lesbians and having their constitutional rights recognized.

  17. sharma says:

    [Deleted by admin]

  18. BIk says:

    Brooklynwala

    After your fiasco with the Halal issue you now what to rub Sikhs noses in the mud by claiming that being against gay marriage is against Sikhi! Tell me great sage.. what if these newly 'liberated' LGTB Sikhs demand to have an Anand Karaj at a Gurdwara between 2 males or 2 females?

  19. justmakingapoint says:

    homosexuality is a corruption of the mind…not a way of life

  20. Bondorenko says:

    If I follow the writer, Sikhism is a platform to fight for the principles of the French Revolution: equality for all people. This sounds attractive, but simply has no relation to reality. There are honest and dishonest people, beautiful and unattractive people, moral and immoral people, etc.

    Moreover, I notice a surprising contradiction: people are equal, thus democracy should be the principle. However, when the majority of people decide differently from the liberal agenda on this issue, the writer is unhappy with this and quotes the SGGS. Wasn't the Khalsa founded in far more serious conditions, that people could choose their own religion without the fear of being killed? That was a life or dead issue, not a political discussion about either partnership or marriage.

  21. [...] came just after state lawmakers voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage in New York last week. While some Sikhs (and Sikh institutions) have been outspoken about their opposition to allowing same-sex couples to marry, many others of us are celebrating this [...]

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