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Hindu clergy re-clarifies position on marriage as "between a man and a woman"

Gay couple photographed at green park market in New Delhi. Source: Getty Images

The Australian Council of Hindu Clergy has re clarified it's position on same-sex marriage after last week announcing it supports the 'Yes' campaign, to now reissuing their statement to advise that marriage under Hinduism "is between a man and a woman." The spokesperson who released the original statement is now reportedly standing down.

The Australian Council of Hindu Clergy appears to be divided on the issue of same-sex marriage. After last week releasing a statement in support of same-sex marriage, the organisation have now re clarified their position, saying that marriage under Hinduism "is between a man and a woman."

"Australians have an option for a civil union or to be in a de-facto relationship under the Australian law," council member Pandit Jatinbhai Bhatt tells SBS Gujarati. "So same-sex relationships should not be presented as 'marriage.'" 

"Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

"It’s purpose is to procreate and if that is taken out of the equation the union can no longer be called a marriage."

Bhatt is the head priest of Australia's oldest Hindu temple, Sri Mandir, and a member of the council, which represents Hindu priests, monks, nuns and clergy from a diverse array of cultural backgrounds across Australia. 

"Today we are faced with the question of same-sex marriage and Hindu Clergy is divided on it," he says.

"90 per cent of priests are opposing it and two or three priests are supporting it."

Last week though, then-spokesperson for the council Pandit Rami spoke to SBS Radio’s Malayalam program in his official capacity as the public relations officer of the organisation, saying that the group was publicly supporting the 'Yes' campaign for same-sex marriage.

"We [Hindus], as a migrant community, expect equality before law," Rami said, "how can we expect equality for ourselves and deny it for another marginalised community. Is that not hypocrisy?"

A statement that was then appearing on the council's website reflected this, saying, "to discriminate against any group because of race, gender, or sexual orientation is against the Dharma."

The Australian Council of Hindu Clergy statement
The two statements issued by the Australian Council of Hindu Clergy. On the left: the statement as it originally appeared. On the right: the reissued statement
The Australian Council of Hindu Clergy

Bhatt says that many within the group were not happy that this statement had been released on their behalf, so on Sunday 17th September, the clergy met for an annual general meeting and had a vote among the organisation’s member priests, where according to Bhatt, over 90 per cent of the priests voted "No."

"In a democracy, everyone is entitled to their own opinions," says Bhatt. "So we organized a vote on same-sex marriage within the organization, which resulted in a 'No' from the Australian Council of Hindu Clergy."

He also says that Pandit Rami, who released the initial statement on behalf of the group, "expressed his disappointment at the vote and has offered to leave the organization."

The statement posted to the organisation's website has this week been reissued and now reads:

"Our official position on the Marriage Equality debate is that marriage, (vivaha) as defined by Hindu Dharma Shastras [Sanskrit texts] is between a man and a woman for the purpose of performing their duties (dharma) i.e. fulfilling their obligations towards their families, societies, professions and the environment. For the birthing and raising of worthy progeny (praja) and companionship (Sahatva) in all the above."

The group clarifies however that although under Hinduism, the sacrament of marriage "is technically between a Hindu man and woman and not applicable to same sex couples," it makes allowances for equality for all other non-Hindu Australians. 

"We understand marriage according to the Australian secular Law ... has nothing to do with marriage as interpreted by [the Hindu texts]— the two concepts are separate — the religious vs the secular." 

The statement also says that, "We totally support human rights and equality of gender within the secular Australian society in which we live, and have no opposition whatsoever to any changes in the law and the legal definition of marriage that the democratic society deems necessary for the well-being and happiness of all citizens whatever be their gender."

Bhatt says that a civil union is not what is being opposed, but the use of the word “marriage” is what priests are opposing and would not be conducting any religious ceremonies for same-sex couples.

"What is a marriage?" he says. "The definition of a marriage is a union between a man and a woman." 

"Same-sex marriage will not result in the birth of a new generation and will create an imbalance in the society."

"Same-sex marriage will not result in the birth of a new generation and will create an imbalance in the society."

The Australian Council of Hindu Clergy represents priests from various Australian states and according to Bhatt, the current difference of opinions is not the first period of discord the group has experienced.

Established in 1990, the organisation previously went through an extended period of inactivity "due to difference of opinions between member priests," says Bhatt, before it was then reactivated in 2007.

"The aim of reactivated organization was for priests to contribute to the social activities across Australian society," he says.

"To bring the guiding principles of religion to the forefront."

All survey forms for Australia's current optional postal survey on same-sex marriage have now been lodged with Australia Post, with the final 20 per cent of ballots on their way to households.

If people don't receive theirs by 25 September, they are encouraged to contact the Australian Bureau of Statistics. All forms need to be received back by November 7, with the result to be published on November 15.

Listen to council member Pandit Jatinbhai Bhatt's full interview (in Gujarati) with SBS Gujarati in the audio player above. 

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