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Same-Sex Marriage

Ramandeep Kaur Grewal is a Toronto lawyer and executive member of The Sikh Centennial Foundation. T. Sher Singh is a Guelph lawyer and a trustee of The Sikh Foundation International.

The Globe and Mail, Jan. 28, 2005

Photo: T. Sher Singh

An alarming 'edict' recently issued in India from Sikhdom's Akal Takht in Amritsar has firmly condemned same-sex marriage, saying the Sikh code of conduct does not allow such marriages. What is the hullabaloo in India all about?

The statement, purportedly to influence the same-sex debate in Canada, was issued by Giani Joginder Singh Vendanti, the jathedar, or head representative, of the Akal Takht. He said same-sex marriage is a trend that has no place in the Sikh religion.

But this man is not the spiritual head of Sikhdom and has no religious authority over Sikhs, whether they live in Canada or India or anywhere else in the world.

It seems that some people in Canada have taken advantage of a situation that is essentially a Canadian domestic issue about the interpretation of Canada's laws, and tried to exploit it to advance their own agendas, political or otherwise.

Our concern is that ill-founded and rushed statements made by Canadian politicians who otherwise have no understanding of religious principles only manage to divert attention from the real issues and actually undermine the political process.

Hence, the need for these clarifications:

The Akal Takht is the highest seat of temporal - not spiritual - authority, located within the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar. Its head representative is its spokesperson. No more, no less.

No one can, or should, refute the Akal Takht's authority to guide the community in its temporal affairs. But its foundation is built on principles of representative democracy, involving a consultative and inclusive process that considers all views on any particular issue before making any decision on matters of significance to the global Sikh community. In this case, no such process took place.

Equality, democracy and the right to exercise basic fundamental freedoms are concepts that a Sikh learns from his or her very first encounter with religious doctrine. They are the precepts that form the very foundation of the Sikh faith.

It's no wonder so many Sikh Canadians find a comfortable association with these principles - they are also entrenched in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

From this perspective, the issue surrounding same-sex marriage in Canada is a no-brainer. Freedom of conscience is the foremost of fundamental freedoms according to Sikh religious doctrine, and an essential factor in realizing oneself in the spiritual sense.

Venerated figures throughout Sikh history, most notably the founders of the faith, committed themselves to this principle, even sacrificing their lives to protect the right of other faiths to practise and believe as they wished - even when those practices were not in line with their own.

Unfortunately, given the highly emotional nature of the same-sex debate, many people have been misled or have misunderstood the issue. We believe the issue is no longer merely one of religious doctrine or moral values; it is now about the interpretation and application of the Charter.

The Supreme Court of Canada has been very clear in its reference, stating that, while the right of religious institutions is protected within their own domain, expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples accords with the values enshrined in the Charter.

In other words, legalizing same-sex marriage reflects the spirit of the Charter and protects the right of each person to believe and be as they are. Sounds like Sikh philosophy to our ears.