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US Hindu lawmaker's stand on gays sparks controversy

August 06, 2013 20:40 IST

US Hindu lawmaker's stand on gays sparks controversy

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Aziz Haniffa

Tulsi Gabbard’s stand on gays, her dress sense, irks Hindu group, reports Aziz Haniffa.

Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii Democrat, and the first and only Hindu American in the United States House of Representatives, has been taken to task by a Hindu group for supporting gays and lesbians.

The group has alleged that her allegiance to Hinduism is only for political expediency and to raise funds for her campaign coffers among the affluent Indian-American community.

In an open letter addressed to ‘Dear Indians and especially Hindu Indians,’ the US Brahma Madhva Gaudiya Sampradaya, said ‘Tulsi Gabbard, our Hindu representative, has taken on the controversial gay marriage issue. We would not want you to think that her position is in any way the official position of our particular spiritual lineage, the Brahmâ Madhva-Gaudîya Sampradâya, which Tulsi was born into and claims to follow.’

“As you all probably know very well, Hinduism, in general, does not consider homosexual activities to be helpful for spiritual progress. In fact, such activities are considered to be detrimental to spiritual life”.

“This is not only the general Hindu position, but also more or less the position of every major religion. Our Sampradâya also holds this position.”

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Image: Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gibbard
Photographs: Courtesy: Tulsi Gabbard's Instagram page

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'Her complete embrace of gay marriage goes too far for us'

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However, the group declared, “We are not at all homophobic,” and noted, “One recent guru in our lineage had a number of prominent followers who were known to be gay, although, of course, they were required to swear off such activities when taking formal initiation”.

It reiterated, “Tulsi Gabbard’s complete embrace of gay marriage goes too far for us. We are not sure exactly why she took this position. Maybe it is simply because it is politically expedient to support gay marriage at this time in the United States, especially for members of the Democratic Party”.

In its letter, the group said, “We are quite familiar with the Hawaii culture and society. If Tulsi’s position was more moderate, it would, in our humble opinion, better represent her constituents as well.”

The group assailed Gabbard’s constant wearing of Western attire and only resorting to traditional Hindu attire with a bindi when she was attending fund-raising events organised by the Indian-American community and greeting them with the traditional namaste.

“Our position is that there should be some sign that Tulsi Gabbard is a Hindu, in her normal appearance, rather than it only being something for fundraising. A full outfit or sari is not required. But something should be visible,” a spokesman for the group told India Abroad.

When asked why they were being cagey vis-à-vis their background and refused to identify themselves by name, but only to be quoted as a spokesman, the response was, “Our organisation’s primary members are the children of the original Western converts to our Sampradaya. Our primary goals are preserving our faith and traditions, continuing the preaching work, and performing seva.

The spokesman said, “We are headquartered in Los Angeles, but many members do live in Hawaii. There is no president, but rather a volunteer board of directors,” and added, “No individual particularly wants to be named.”

When this correspondent persisted and asked the spokesman if the group was legally registered as an organisation or association and why none of the members wanted to identify themselves, he said, “We actually have a number of incorporated organisations, including Gurukula Alumni Inc, Kulimela Association, and Vaishnava Youth Inc.”

Heather Fluit, press secretary at Gabbard’s office, told India Abroad that the Congresswoman had repeatedly said that government and political leaders like her should have no place in determining the most personal aspects of people’s lives.

“She believes the government should not have the power to determine if a relationship is sacred or not, and that this decision should be left to the individuals involved, and their respective sampradayas and religious institutions,” Fluit said.

“However, so long as government is involved, then it should be neutral and treat all people equally.”

Last year, Gabbard, 31, who is constantly felicitated by the Indian-American community across the country and has been accorded rock star status, had defended her progressive take on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage despite coming from an extremely conservative family background in an exclusive interview with India Abroad.

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Image: Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gibbard
Photographs: Courtesy: Tulsi Gabbard's Instagram page

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Hindu American Foundation defends Gabbard

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Suhag Shukla, executive director and legal counsel, Hindu American Foundation, said that Gabbard as a practicing Hindu and as an American was free to personally believe what she found to be true.

“Moreover, on policy issues such as this, her first and foremost duty is to represent the folks who put her in office,” she added.

“Questioning her adherence to a tradition by stating she only ‘claims to follow’ it because her stance on this particular issue is different from that of the lineage, is unfair. Tulsi Gabbard hasn’t claimed to speak for her spiritual lineage nor for all Hindus.”

Shukla said, “At HAF, we have essentially said that when it comes to marriage as a sacred rite or samskara, Hindu sampradayas, religious institutions, and temples may differ in their offering of this samskara to same-sex couples and have every right to do so.”

But, she added, “where marriage is a civil, government-regulated right, and that too with special privileges, then every American should have the equal access to those rights and privileges and equal protection under the law.”

“This approach promotes both the Hindu and American ideals of the acceptance and respect for the diversity of humanity, freedom of thought, and pluralism.”

Shukla said, “As for Hinduism and homosexuality, as with any other religious traditions, there is not going to be consensus.”

“Indeed, Hindu society is still by and large socially conservative and marriage has traditionally been defined as between a man and a woman.”


Image: Tulsi Gibbard with US Vice President Joe Biden
Photographs: Courtesy: Tulsi Gabbard's Instagram page

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