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Marriage & Relationships Sikh Philosophy

A Statement on Marriage Equality from Sarbat

Sarbat has released several statements on the Sikh perspective on equal marriage for people of all gender identities and sexual orientation since 2007 1,2,3. In light of recent developments and renewed interest in the topic 4,5,6, we would like to further reiterate our position.

Everything we do or say is keeping in with our core belief in Equality for all. 

#SarbatEqualMarriage

The Anand Karaj marriage ceremony as an institution has been available to (practising and non practising) Sikhs. First introduced by Guru Amardas, the Anand Karaj ceremony has evolved over the last 500 years and the contemporary version of the ceremony we are familiar with today was only formalised by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in the mid-20th century.5 

 “A union of two genderless souls.”

Notably, the only references made to gender in Gurbani are those likening the couple entering the marriage as the soul-bride and Ik Oankar (the One Supreme Being) as the bridegroom 5,7. The ceremony, thus, signifies the commitment of two human souls to come together in the ultimate service of, and union with, the Akal Purakh (the Timeless Being). Reducing Gurbani to a narrow, literal, worldly reading is a disservice, and not in line with widely agreed scholastic readings of the Guru’s teachings. Keeping this in mind, there is nothing that should prevent LGBTQIA+ to access a marriage ceremony taking place within the context of Sikhism 5,7.

Unfortunately, when dealing with LGBTQIA+ issues, Sikh leaders have consistently failed to observe the fundamental Sikh principles of equality, compassion and peace that are taught by Gurbani. This includes organisations as diverse as the Akal Takht in India 8, Sikh Council UK 9, and Sikh Missionary Society 10. And indeed we witnessed heartbreaking condemnation for two men who recently partook in an Anand Karaj ceremony to solemnize their commitment to each other and Ik Oankar 11. The couple, and our entire queer Sikh Sangat, became targets of online bullying, harassment and hate 11,12. In a faith that proudly professes equality of humankind 13, why are we consistently relegated as “less than” our heterosexual, cisgender siblings? Why are we being held to an entirely different (much higher) standard?

It is however encouraging to note a growing maturity within the Panth when discussing sexuality from a Sikh perspective. Discussion boards are abuzz with having difficult and uncomfortable conversations in an open manner 4. Online magazines such as Kaur Life are releasing content for and by queer Sikhs 14, organisations focussing on mental health are recognizing the specific needs of LGBTQIA+ individuals and making spaces 15,16 available to us. Academic institutions like the Sikh Research Institute are undertaking policy research to move the conversation forward based on detailed analysis rather than personal opinions 5,6. In fact, they found that 75% of the respondents believed that sexual orientation was not important when determining who should be able to access the Anand Karaj ceremony 5. This finding clearly demonstrates a disconnect between the views of the aforementioned organisations and those of the Panth they claim to represent. 

Sarbat will strive for equality for all of us. This includes the provision for equal access to a religiously solemnised Anand Karaj, even if it means evolving our Rehat (and expanding our minds) to include and accept all of our siblings, in line with our Sikh teachings.

We now invite Sikh organisations to become our allies in this fight: Host uncomfortable conversations in mainstream spaces; provide non judgemental support and resources to Sikhs of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Our Gurus stood up against injustice wherever they saw it, and this is your chance to do the same. 

In the spirit of openness and transparency, we would welcome responses in the comment section here under this article and not on our social media accounts. 

Sarbat is a volunteer led group addressing LGBT+ issues from a Sikh perspective. We encourage you to find more about us and join our newsletter. Please join us if you want to make a real change in how we discuss LGBT+ issues faced by Sikhs across the world. 

Statement composed by Dharam Singh and Shraddha Kaur with inputs from other Sarbat volunteers.

References

[1] Sarbat articles tagged Marriage & Relationship:
http://www.sarbat.net/category/marriage-relationships/ 

[2] Sarbat Leaflet on Sikhism and Same-Sex Relationships (2008):
http://www.sarbat.net/2008/10/leaflet-on-sikhism-and-same-sex-relationships/ 

[3] Sarbat’s article on Sikhism and Same-Sex Marriages (2007):
http://www.sarbat.net/2007/10/sikhism-and-same-sex-marriages/ 

[4] Discussion hosted by Sikh Reddit (Sep 2020):
https://www.reddit.com/r/Sikh/comments/j46tss/this_saturday_our_rsikh_discord_event_is_on_the/

[5] Sikh Research Institute, State of the Panth Report 2: Anand Karaj (2018)
https://www.sikhri.org/anand_karaj_the_sikh_marriage 

[6] Sikh Research Institute, State of the Panth Report 6: Sikhi & Sexuality (2020)
https://sikhri.org/sotp

[7] Harper Collins, edited by Jerry Johnson: I am Divine, So are you (2017)

[8] The Tribue: Akal Takht diktat against same-sex marriages (2005)
https://www.tribuneindia.com/2005/20050117/punjab1.htm#1

[9] The Sikh Council UK: Policy on same-sex marriages (2010)
http://sikhcounciluk.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Sikh-Council-UK-Policy-on-Same-Sex-Marriages.pdf

[10] Sikh Missionary Society: Sikh View About Homosexuality & Same Sex Marriages:
https://www.sikhmissionarysociety.org/sms/smsarticles/advisorypanel/gurmukhsinghsewauk/sikhviewabouthomosexualityandsamesexmarriages/ 

[11] California Sikh Youth Alliance: Statement regarding incident in Elk Grove (2020)
https://www.instagram.com/p/CFnrnIvMa0t/

[12] Sikh community on Reddit (2020)
https://www.reddit.com/r/Sikh/comments/j46tss/this_saturday_our_rsikh_discord_event_is_on_the/g7j4byj/

[13] SikhWiki: Equality of Mankind (2012)
https://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/Equality_of_mankind 

[14] Kaur Life, written by prabhdeep singh kehal: Policing the bodies of transgender and queer Sikhs (2020)
https://kaurlife.org/2020/09/27/policing-the-bodies-of-transgender-queer-sikhs/ 

[15] Apni SOCH 2.0: Episode 16: South Asian Queer & Trans Mental Health
https://youtu.be/KLmi9JmYz1Q 

[16] Taraki website: https://www.taraki.co.uk/projects/social-spaces 

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