Recognizing Gay Marriage
Posted May 3, 2005
I was very saddened to read Bhakta Pat's recent posting on Chakra. Discrimination and prejudice in the name of religion comes in many forms, but the method always seems to be the same: dehumanizing a class of people in order to deny them certain rights.
How many times have we seen this before? Men keeping women from assuming positions of power and leadership; Whites keeping Blacks from the upper tiers of society; Smarta-Hindus keeping Westerners from entering temples, and now, in the latest showcase of bigotry, straights keeping gays from marrying.
Bhakta Pat continues this tradition by comparing gay and lesbian people with demons, calling them "abnormal" and claiming that their inability to procreate disqualifies them from marriage. This actually makes no sense since even demons are allowed to marry, and no law requires married couples to produce offspring or rejects couples if they are infertile. Still, although most people are not aware of it, over 30% of the reported 500,000 gay couples living in the U.S. today do in fact have children. In his book, Jaiva-Dharma, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura states:
One should not enter marriage with a desire to beget children, or to worship the forefathers and Prajapatis. It is favorable to bhakti to think: I am only accepting this servant of Krsna so that we can assist each other in Krsna's service and establish Krsna-centered family life together. (Jaiva-Dharma, p. 164)
Assisting one another in Krsna's service is the foremost principle of grhastha life and any devotee, gay or straight, can engage in this practice. Although Srila Prabhupada made several random statements against gay marriage in the 1970s, he certainly never discussed the issue in detail with his homosexual disciples. He never held meetings, listened to concerns, or answered questions as he did with other important social issues. The question was never raised. Perhaps it was not a vital issue back then; even most gays did not realize, three decades ago, how important marriage would become for them in the future. The closest examples we have of Srila Prabhupada addressing this issue on a personal level comes from a few private conversations where he suggested gays try opposite-sex marriage or when he told Upendra das, "Then just find a nice boy, stay with him and practice Krsna consciousness."
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura further states:
All jivas have the right to Vaishnava-dharma; that is why it is also known as jaiva-dharma. Even outcastes can take up vaishnava-dharma and live as grhasthas, although they are not part of varnasrama. (Jaiva-Dharma, p. 172)
Marriage is important for all types of people whether they are part of varnasrama or not, and therefore Bhaktivinoda Thakura recommends it for everyone. Brahmanas, Vaishnavas, devotees, non-devotees, sudras, meat-eaters, atheists, aboriginal tribesmen, and yes, even gays are all aided by marriage. It is good for both them and society.
Bhakta Pat suggests that if ISKCON takes the moral imperative on this issue and allows gay marriage for members living outside the temple, then this would somehow make our movement look bad in the public eye. I see the opposite, however, and we should also keep in mind the history of slavery, women's right, interracial marriage, and so on. More and more churches are taking the compassionate approach every day, even in spite of a recent resurgence in hard-line religious fundamentalism. Indeed, President George Bush, who Bhakta Pat cites as an example of a modern leader opposing gay marriage, has spoken out in favor of civil unions along with Vice President Dick Cheney and other prominent conservatives. I think ISKCON would be highly commended for taking a progressive and compassionate stance on this issue.
I feel that many devotees greatly exaggerate fears about gay marriage. Since only 5% of the population is gay and only half of those would likely marry, I don't see how such a small handful of devotees living outside the temple would have any effect on our movement. No one is suggesting lowering temple standards, changing the regulative principles, redefining illicit sex or any such thing: devotees who keep arguing this point are wasting their time. There has been no call for gay fire sacrifices, gay couples living in the temple, or anyone performing brahminical services if they are not strictly celibate.
A concerned and caring Vaishnava preacher thinks, "How can I help all souls progress more and more in Krsna consciousness?" Krsna exemplifies this type of preaching Himself in Bhagavad Gita (12.9-12), and Hrdayananda Maharaja has brilliantly expressed this aspect of our philosophy in his essay Vaishnava Moral Theology and Its Application On The Issue of Homosexuality. This gives many devotees hope that the practical and compassionate essence of Vaishnavism is still alive. Until we dare to preach beyond our temple walls and include all members of society in Krsna consciousness, Lord Caitanya's mission will not be fulfilled.
By excluding gays and lesbians from important practices like monogamy and marriage, Bhakta Pat and others are in fact promulgating the very behavior they claim to protest. I worry that students of Krsna consciousness are not being trained in the proper Vaishnava mood. When I was a young brahmacari in the ashrama, I recall being taught to disrespect and demean women, a behavior that I later regretted and shed. I hope this same type of pathological behavior is not being taught today in regard to gays. We all make mistakes as we learn to grow, but let's correct ourselves as soon as possible and try to adopt a more knowledgeable and loving mood. As Bhakti Tirtha Swami once told me: It is quite amazing how most of us can be so prejudiced about so many things and not even know it. Devotees should carefully reflect on how dehumanizing and unnecessary it is to prevent anyone from marrying who needs to.
Hare Krsna! Jaya Sri Radhe!