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Ontario Sikhs Make Same-Sex Marriage an Election Issue


The Globe and Mail, Dec. 23, 2005

Photo: Navdeep Singh Bains

Conservative candidates are confident their opposition to same-sex marriage has tightened the race for seats in Brampton, a Liberal stronghold for more than a decade.

In the midst of the Jan. 23 election campaign, Brampton's biggest Sikh temple, with about 8,000 members, has barred the Liberal incumbents - and anyone else who voted in favour of the same-sex legislation - from addressing its congregants.

'I'm winning,' said Tory Sam Hundal, who is trying to upend Liberal M.P. Ruby Dhalla in the Brampton-Springdale riding. She beat Mr. Hundal by just over 8,200 votes in the 2004 election.

'I will win on this big issue. It is one of the dominant issues in my community because there's a large number of Muslim and Sikh people living in my community.'

However, the Liberal M.P.s say neither the same-sex issue nor exclusion from addressing congregants of the Sri Guru Nanak Sikh Center Brampton on Glidden Road will hurt their chances in a city where the Sikh community constitutes more than 10 per cent of the population and is vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage.

'When you talk to Sikhs, they're like any other Canadians in that they care deeply about this country,' said Navdeep Bains, the Liberal incumbent for Mississauga-Brampton South who in 2004 received more than double the votes of the Tory who finished in second place. 'The health-care system, child care, jobs, immigration settlement - these are the issues they talk about.'

As for the other two Brampton Liberals, Ms. Dhalla and Brampton West incumbent Colleen Beaumier, they say they would not campaign in places of worship anyway.

'I have a very, very strong support in the Punjabi community, in the Sikh community,' Ms. Beaumier said, adding she has always enjoyed political support from the Sri Guru Nanak Sikh Center and assumes this time will be no different.

But leaders of this gurdwara, or place of worship, have been unambiguous about their policy: They will not vote for those who support same-sex marriage, and have encouraged their congregants to follow their lead.

In April, when the Ontario Gurdwara Committee, which represents at least 16 gurdwaras including the Sri Guru Nanak Sikh Center, celebrated the Sikh New Year, they invited Stephen Harper, but not Paul Martin. While the committee's spokesman, Amarjit Singh Mann, did not say directly they would vote Conservative, he was clear they would vote for 'whoever was against same-sex marriage.'

Mr. Hundal said the issue is so important in his riding that people who find Liberal campaign signs on their lawn throw them out for fear of being perceived to be in favour of gays and lesbians. In addition to the Sikh community, he said he has the support of a large percentage of Roman Catholics.

'I'm getting a very warm feeling,' said Baljit Gosal, the Conservative candidate for Brampton West, which Ms. Beaumier carried in 2004 by five percentage points, or fewer than 3,000 votes. While he recognizes that no single issue will be decisive, he said that his anti-gay-marriage stand resonates with the majority of his community 'because it's also what they believe in.'

Two of the three Liberal incumbents are Sikhs. Ms. Dhalla and Mr. Bains say they voted for same-sex marriage because they value equality, despite a verdict by the highest Sikh authority that homosexuality is contrary to the religion.

'Regardless of my own personal beliefs, fundamentally I stand for the Charter of Rights,' Ms. Dhalla said. Many minorities, including the Sikh community, understand the importance of the Charter, Mr. Bains added.