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Malhi: Vedanti Is Next to God

In a press release issued on January 18, the Ottawa-based World Sikh Organization (W.S.O.) sought to distance itself from Malhi's remark. Gian Singh Sandhu, Senior Policy Advisor for the W.S.O., said, "[T]he passing of legislation in Canada to allow for same sex marriages has no bearing on the conduct of marriages in gurdwaras." Ajit Singh Sahota, President of the W.S.O., stated, "[W]e as Sikhs have an obligation to support the rights of others to live according to their own conscience.", Jan. 19, 2005

Photo: (L to R) Navdeep Bains, Deepak Obhrai, Ujjal Dosanjh, Paul Martin, Ruby Dhalla, Gurbax Malhi and Manmohan Singh

The same-sex marriage debate has followed Prime Minister Paul Martin all the way to India, after the spiritual leader of the Sikhs urged his followers to reject the legalization of gay marriage.

Two days before Martin arrived in New Delhi, Joginder Singh Vedanti issued an edict directing his followers around the world to reject the legalization of gay marriage. Vedanti said, 'Same-sex marriage originates from a sick mind.'

As well, the advisory body of the Sikh religion urged Canada's six Sikh M.P.s (four Liberals and two Conservatives) to 'rise above petty politics and take a stand against same-sex marriage.'

After meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday, Martin was asked by reporters about the controversy.

'This is a question of civil marriage, not of religious marriage,' Martin told reporters.

'I would point out that we are a country of ethnic and religious minorities,' the P.M. said. 'And the purpose of the Charter of Rights is to protect minorities, to protect them against the oppression of the majority.'

At first, Singh declined to comment on what he said was a domestic Canadian political issue. But then he mused that same-sex legislation 'would not have, I think, wide appreciation' in India.

Vedanti's unprecedented edict sparked a lively debate in the Indian press.

The Tribune newspaper reported Martin was advised against visiting Amritsar, Sikhism's holiest city because he might not receive a warm welcome from religious leaders.

The paper wrote that such an insult 'would hit the Liberal party hard politically because most of the Sikhs supporting it in Canada would turn away from it, keeping in view the posture adopted by the Sikh clergy.'

Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said Martin's itinerary changed, dropping the scheduled Amritsar visit to make time for last weekend's stopovers in tsunami-striken regions of Thailand and Sri Lanka.

'There was some talk that Ujjal Dosanjh was sent there last week to explain the prime minister's decision,' [C.T.V.'s Joy] Malbon said. 'He said, 'Yes he did go but as a private citizen' and he suggested that Sikhs learn to separate their religion from politics.'

Dosanjh told reporters: 'I went to the temple not to explain anything to anyone. I represent a secular state, religion and politics are two separate issues for me.'

The Health Minister also said that he believed the edict would not influence the political views of Canadian Sikhs.

'I mean, Prime Minister Martin and (former) prime minister Chretien both were Catholics, the Vatican (stand against same-sex marriage) didn't have an impact on them. And therefore no other religious institution would have an impact on anybody else.'

Gurbax Malhi, a Bramalea, Ont. Liberal M.P., has decided he will vote against his government's bill, which will likely be introduced in February.

'I believe in religion that is why I'm against same sex-marriage,' Malhi told C.T.V. News.

'Traditionally . . . everybody works under the guidelines of the Golden Temple,' Malhi added. 'For the Sikhs, (Vedanti) is next to God. So I think whatever he says, the people have to follow the rules and regulations of the traditions.'

But Brampton, Ont. M.P. Ruby Dhalla said she is not sure how she will vote.

Dhalla says that while the Sikh high priest is equivalent to the Pope, she's not in Parliament to 'impose my religious views or my faith on anybody.'

Navdeep Singh Bains, a Liberal M.P. for the riding of Mississauga-Brampton South, told C.T.V. News that while this is a sensitive issue in the community Canadian Sikhs should recognize it is a Charter issue.

'How quickly we forget that when you're not in the minority - somebody else is the minority - how easy it is to point the finger at another minority.'

'Now to turn my back on the charter that's protected so many minority rights including Sikhs in the past is difficult.'