Hinduism and Same-sex Marriage

Portrait of a face

by Jayaram V

Recently the Supreme Court of India delivered a judgment regarding the the legality of same-sex intercourse between consenting adults, also known as gay sex or sex between people of the same gender. It refused to rescind an old law which declares sexual acts between same-sex people as criminal and unlawful. Some Hindus applauded the decision, while some were visibly upset by it.

What most people missed in the process was that the Supreme Court did not decide anything about the status of same-sex relationships, but only restated its boundaries of jurisprudence and the limits of its authority. The highest Court of India, made it abundantly clear that the Judiciary is not meant to formulate laws but only interpret them.

A court can deliver judgment based on prevailing laws, even if those laws are outdated and redundant. If a law has to be amended or reformed, that responsibility rests with the legislative wing of the government, but not with the Judiciary. In a contemporary world, driven by various social pressures characteristic of a plural and democratic society, the relationship between same-sex couples need not be termed as a marriage in the religious or traditional sense of the word. It can be given any other name, and the couple who is a party to it may be extended the same financial and social security benefits due to ordinary couples since such couples may adopt children and raise a family, which is good for society. However, equating it with the traditional form of marriage or sanctifying it by imparting to it a religious and sacred basis, would tantamount to travesty of justice and religious sacrilege.

Ever since the court decision, several arguments have been raised either in favor or against same-sex relationships. Some have stretched the logic extremely, quoting a few examples from the Puranas to suggest that Hinduism approves of gay sex. We have also seen an attempt by some people to create the wrong impression that Hinduism accepts same-sex couples and same-sex relationships as legitimate. In support of it they suggest that we have a tradition of respecting transgender people, and we have some stories in the Puranas depicting a relationship between two male gods.

The truth is however different. Human ingenuity has no end. We can twist any logic, evidence and meaning of a scripture to support our actions. We may even argue that since the individual Self (Atma) is asexual, gender differences do not matter. To counter such possibilities, Hinduism has evolved over time a system of validation, in which sruti (the world of God) plays an important role.

The following discussion is not about the legality or illegality of same-sex relationships, but about the status of same-sex marriage in Hinduism and whether Hinduism recognizes it at all. Gay marriages and gay relationships are modern phenomena. Even though Hinduism is over 6000 years old, the subject never attracted special treatment in any Hindu scripture. If there were people with homosexual tendencies in ancient India, they never expressed it openly for fear of the excommunication and public condemnation.

Hence, none of the scriptures explicitly dealt with the subject. However, opposition to same-sex relationships and denigrating attitude towards eunuchs, transgender people and impotent husbands is well evident in almost every scripture of Hinduism. From that we can deduce the general line of thought in Hinduism towards same-sex relationships. The following are some of the reasons why same-sex marriage is not admissible in Hinduism.

1. It is not validated by the Vedas. Marriage is a sacred relationship that cannot be redefined according to our convenience. Any definition of marriage in Hinduism need to be validated by the Vedas, which are considered the verbal testimony since they are an eternal aspect of God and represent the highest truth. The Vedas recognize the marriage between a man and a woman only. Such a marriage may happen either with (daiva) or without consent (asura), but the relationship is always between a man and woman, never between people of the same-sex. Even the Asuras (demons), who break all the rules, do not participate in same-sex relationships. According to the Vedas, a marriage is a sacred bond between two individual souls, born on earth as a male and a female to participate in God's creations as His aspects and instruments. Together, they participate in the preservation and continuation of the world and world order. Their births and coming together happens because of their past karmas and their relationship may last for not one but several lifetimes.

2. It is not conducive to rebirth. A soul has no sexuality, but it is bound to the laws of Nature. Unlike in Christianity and Islam, according to Hindu scriptures, a soul, usually called the individual Self, is devoid of qualities, parts, gender, identity and sexuality. In other words, it has no fixed personality of its own. It is pure consciousness which assumes a name and form according to its past karma. However, for cleansing its past karma, every soul needs to take birth upon earth in a good family and in favorable conditions. Same-sex marriages do not facilitate rebirth, nor the reentry of ancestors from the ancestral world. Hence, spiritually they are not the same as normal marriages between a man and a woman.

3. It conflicts with the chief aims of human life. Hinduism recognizes four chief aims of human life (Purusharthas), namely dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kama (pleasures) and moksha (liberation). Vatsayana states that man should practice these aims at different periods in his lifetime in such a manner that they harmonize rather than clash. For example he should study dharma (Vedas) as a student in childhood, pursue artha as a youth and kama in the middle age. With regard to importance, dharma is first, then artha, followed by kama. when these are pursued rightfully, then it leads to liberation (moksha), the fourth aim. In other words, pursuit of artha and kama should be according to the precepts of Dharma and not otherwise. Thus in Hinduism, there is no rightful place for sexual enjoyment arising from homosexual acts, since they are not conducive to the four chief aims of human life, and especially liberation (moksha).

4. It conflicts with, the ideals of Dharma. Same-sex marriage do not permit humans to participate in creation and serve God by performing their share of His obligatory duties. The purpose of a marriage is twofold: procreation and continuation of obligatory duties (dharma) assigned to the couple according to their birth. Vatsayana declares that the results of a marriage are, "The acquisition of Dharma and Artha, offspring, affinity, increase of friends, and untarnished love." Manusmriti says, "Women were created to be mothers, and men to be fathers. Therefore, religious rites are ordained in the Veda to be performed (by the husband) together with the wife." In a marriage, each of the couple has an obligation to perform their duties for the preservation of the family, society and continuation of the order and regularity (rtam) of the world. Their duties are actually part of the duties (Dharma) of God Himself. By performing the duties obligatory to them they assist God in keeping the worlds going and in the orderly progression of events. In other words, each individual is meant to serve God and live in the service of God. You worship God by living and doing your duties and earn your right to liberation. Hinduism is called a way of life because it advocates God-centric life, not a selfish life in which every act you perform is an offering to God and in the service of God. Living for yourself is sinful and leads to karma.

5. It conflicts with the ideal of nishkama karma. The same-sex marriage rests upon desire and centers around desire, and Hinduism regards desire as the chief cause of all evils. It is not possible to sustain this type of marriage without desire. According to Hindu scriptures, sexual acts performed out of desires (kama) lead to rebirth and bondage, whereas selfless acts of sexual intercourse performed without selfish desire (nishkama) does not bind. For the same reason, Hinduism is not even averse to Swamis, gurus, ascetics and celibate people participating in dutiful sexual intercourse, as long as it is performed selflessly in the service of God. Sexual intercourse performed strictly for procreation and as an obligatory duty, whether between a husband and wife or between a man and woman, is not prohibited in the Hindu law books. Such acts do not bind the couple with karma. This is not possible in a same-sex marriage.

6. It conflicts with the nourishment of gods by humans. According to the Vedas, the gods are not given the power to make their own food. For food they have to depend upon the offerings humans make thorough sacrifices. The purpose of a Hindu marriage is chiefly to facilitate this nourishment and help the gods to perform their obligatory duties. A Hindu marriage is a sacred covenant between gods and humans, in which gods stand as the witnesses and recipients of the offerings made into the sacred fire. They have a stake in the marriage because they get nourishment in the form of offerings from the sacrifices and the sacraments (samskaras) married couples perform in their lives as part of their obligatory duties, such as the conception and birth of a child, marriage, consummation etc. Therefore, marriage between a man and a woman is acceptable to gods, whereas a same-sex marriage is unacceptable.

7. It conflicts with the aims of Vedic sacrifices. The sexual intercourse between a man and woman is compared in the Vedas to a sacrifice itself in which man pours his semen, symbolically, as an oblation in the fire created by the friction between male and female genital organs. Even in this act, gods participate as the organs in the body and take their share of enjoyment. The outcome of that sacrifice is progeny, preservation of dharma (duty) and continuation of the human race upon earth. Same-sex marriages do not fit in the sacrificial model enshrined in the Vedas and hence not acceptable to Hindus. Same-sex couples cannot participate in a Vedic sacrifice as a husband and wife and make offerings to gods.

8. It conflicts with the aims of Rita. The purpose of Dharma and God's duty of preservation is to ensure the order and regularity of the worlds. The moral code enshrined in the scriptures and the values upheld by Hinduism are meant to ensure proper conduct on the part of each individual so that the order and regularity (rtam) of the world and society are maintained. Hindu scriptures are averse to any condition, and behavior that disrupts the normal life of beings upon earth and the orderly progression of the world and events. Same-sex marriages do not contribute to the order and regularity of the world. In fact, they lead to confusion and decline of traditional family. Hence, they do not fit into the values, morals and ideals of Hinduism.

9. It is not supported by the law books. Hinduism recognizes transgender people as products of their own past karmas, but does not explicitly recognize their right to marry or engage in sexual intercourse with people of either sex. The law books are particularly ill-disposed towards them. Manusmriti is emphatically averse to eunuchs or impotent men. Wherever there is a reference to them, it usually groups them along with all types of unworthy people. For example, it declares (3.150) that those Brahmanas who are thieves, outcasts, eunuchs, or atheists are unworthy (to partake) of oblations to the gods and manes. A Candala, a village pig, a cock, a dog, a menstruating woman, and a eunuch must not look at the Brahmanas while they eat (3.239). A Brahmana must never eat (a dinner given) at a sacrifice that is offered by one who is not a Srotriya, by one who sacrifices for a multitude of men, by a woman, or by a eunuch. (4.205). It also says that a wife should not show disrespect to her husband. If she shows aversion, she should be deserted for three months and deprived of ornaments and furniture. However, the rule will not apply if the husband is an outcast or a eunuch (9.79). It further states that eunuchs and outcasts, (people) born blind or deaf, the insane, idiots and the dumb, as well as those deficient in any organ (of action or sensation), receive no share in mother's property (9.201). However, children born to eunuchs are entitled to a share (9.203). Manusmriti also prescribes a mild punishment to a Brahmana who kills a eunuch (10.134). The other law books are not an exception. The Apastamba Sutras declares that the food prepared by a eunuch should not be eaten (1.6.18.27). It also states (2.6.14.2) that a father should, during his lifetime, divide his wealth equally amongst his sons, excepting the eunuch, the mad man, and the outcast. the Gautama Sutras (15.16) declare that a Brahmana should not feed a guest (athithi) who is a thief, a eunuch, an outcast, an atheist, a person who lives like an atheist, the destroyer of the sacred fire; (the husband of) a younger sister married before the elder, the husband of an elder sister whose youngest sister was married first, a person who sacrifices for women or for a multitude of men, a man who tends goats, who has given up the fire-worship, who drinks spirituous liquor, whose conduct is blamable, who is a false witness, who lives as a door-keeper. Whiles these laws are outdated, we can discern in them the general disposition of the scriptures towards people who do not fit into the traditional model of a virile person.

10. It is not supported even by secular Hindu texts. None of the Hindu scriptures, even secular ones, explicitly approve or recognize marriages between the same sexes. They clearly suggest that individuals who indulge in carnal desires selfishly are sinful and fall into hell. Even Kamasutra, an authoritative text on human sexuality, regards sexual intercourse as an activity between a man and woman. The scripture does not lose sight of the importance of virtue, rightful conduct and dharma even in the sexual enjoyment which men and women seek. It states, "Sexual intercourse being a thing dependent on man and woman requires the application of proper means by them, and those means are to be learnt from the Kama Sastra. The non-application of proper means, which we see in the brute creation, is caused by their being unrestrained, and by the females among them only being fit for sexual intercourse at certain seasons and no more, and by their intercourse not being preceded by thought of any kind." Vatsayana further suggests that sex should not be pursued purely for the sake of sex. Other aspects of education are equally important. He suggests that Kama Sastra should be studied only "in addition to the study of the arts and sciences contained in Dharma and Artha." Even while speaking about various types of sexual enjoyment, he emphasizes the importance of virtue and chastity in the conduct of a virtuous woman. "The wife, whether she is a woman of noble family, or a virgin widow re-married, or a concubine, should lead a chaste life, devoted to her husband, and doing everything for his welfare. Women acting thus, acquire Dharma, Artha, and Kama, obtain a high position, and generally keep their husbands devoted to them."

Conclusion

From the above we can conclude that Hinduism does not approve or support same-sex marriages. Its emphasis is upon the marriage between a man and woman only, since only such a marriage is conducive to preservation of life and continuation of dharma. However, in Hinduism God does not sit in judgment. He neither condemns not castigates people for their actions. He leaves that task to the wheels of Dharma. It is up to the individuals to decide what is appropriate for them, since each individual is responsible for his or her own karma and has to suffer from the consequences of actions performed. While progressives may argue for and against the cause, the truth is Hinduism does not approve of same-sex marriages. However, it does not condemn same-sex couples as evil, as done by some religions. From the point of karma, same-sex intercourse will have the same consequences as lustful sex or desire-ridden sex, and leads to sin, rebirth, bondage (to the mortal world), and suffering. Same-sex couples can neutralize such negative consequences partially by engaging in good actions, cultivating good qualities and character, helping others, and working for a better life in next birth. They may seek legal status under the constitution, which is secular, but will have little chances of finding acceptance in the traditional Hindu community which is committed to the ideals of the Vedas and the values they uphold.

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