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Marriage Equality: Faith/Less?

Thu 8 Nov 2012 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

Why is there such silence from New Zealand's other religious communities about marriage equality? And why are opponents largely restricted to the Christian Right? It's probably no secret that opponents of marriage equality tend to be fundamentalist Protestants and conservative Catholics, although liberal Protestants and Catholics are giving them spirited resistance in contexts like Christians for Marriage Equality Aotearoa New Zealand. But why are no other communities of faith active on this issue? In New Zealand, the Christian Right tends to be dominated by fundamentalist Protestants, who are notoriously sectarian in their conduct and naive, gullible and doctrinaire when it comes to outreach to those of other faiths who might share their religious social conservative values. Conservative Catholics tend to be more pragmatic, except when it comes to the New Zealand anti-abortion movement, apparently. Unlike the United Kingdom, there has been no attempt to reach out to anti-abortion Muslims or Buddhists, for instance. Unlike Canada or the United Kingdom, the New Zealand Christian Right is still mired in anti-multiculturalist social conservative ideological purity, despite census evidence of growing religious pluralism and diversity. One notes their affinity for New Zealand First and its problematic background of anti-immigrant racism, for instance. This pervades fundamentalist popular culture. Walk into any New Zealand fundamentalist bookshop and one frequently notices literature that demonises and homogenises Muslims, depicting them as "universally" militant, anti-western, anti-democratic, violent and sectarian, with rare attempts to recognise that Christian Islamophobia and western colonialism has been the context for the rise in any such militancy overseas. However, given its recent immigrant status and the absence of mainstream Islamophobia within New Zealand society, there is little such militancy within New Zealand Muslim communities. Only one such New Zealand mosque displayed such activity, and its congregation quickly acted to expel such malcontents once they became concerned at their antics. For the most part, Muslims lead quiet, civil and devotional existences, focusing on the observance and practice of their faith. The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand has opposed prostitution law reform in the past, but New Zealand's sole Muslim MP, Ashraf Choudhary, supported civil unions and LGBT relationship equality (and abstained on the final vote when it came to the Prostitution Law Reform Act, provoking criticism from FIANZ and the Maxim Institute alike). But while there are Muslim antigay organisations in Malaysia, Iran, Iraq, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, no similar organised antigay activity exists within New Zealand. New Zealand Muslims seem to be quite satisfied with Louisa Wall's assurances that the Marriage Equality Bill is primarily secular and civil in intent and that mosques won't be compelled to carry out same-sex weddings if their doctrine doesn't permit it. (Although there are also LGBT Muslim organisations within Canada and the United Kingdom- and Indonesia and Iran are strikingly enlightened and trans-inclusive societies). One should comment on Khawaljit Singh Bakshi here. Mr Bakshi is a Sikh. Sikhism is an Indian-centred religion founded in the fifteenth century in the Punjab area by Guru Nanak Dev and his ten paramount guru successors since then. Sikhs follow their own collections of sacred texts from their tradition, entitled the Adi Granth and Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Sikhism is a monotheistic faith and adherents worship in temples known as gurdwaras. Altogether, there are about twenty five million Sikhs worldwide. Sikhism forbids uncut hair, prohibits consumption of alcohol and other intoxicants, discourages adultery, extramarital and premarital sex, frowns on superstition, avaricious materialism, animal sacrifice, encourages family-centred lives and has no ordained priesthood. Altogether, there were roughly 9507 New Zealand Sikhs as noted in the last New Zealand census. Gurdwaras are concentrated in the North Island, especially Auckland and the Bay of Plenty, but also Palmerston North, Wellington and Nelson. Sikh soldiers provided distinguished service during the Second World War. Although many Sikhs revere the Akal Tahit gurdwara in India's Amritsar, it caused some disquiet when Jahedar Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti made antigay pronouncements against Canadian same-sex civil marriage in 2005. Subsequently, however, it was clarified that Sikhs are not neccessarily bound by the opinion of this august gurdwara- for example, not all Sikhs are vegetarians. Furthermore, the World Sikh Organisation supported Canada's Civil Marriage Act once it appeared before Canada's Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Liberal Sikhs note that the Akal Tahit may be affected by excessive Indian cultural conservatism and that the Guru Granth Sahib Ji is silent on the subject of homosexuality. Sikhism believes marriage to be the union of genderless souls and bodily gender is believed to be an ephemeral condition, and antigay activism is not a primary concern within Sikhism. Indeed, there is even an LGBT Sikh website, Sarbat.Net. It would appear that Mr Bakshi does not therefore speak for all his coreligionists on this issue. Other faith communities similarly distrust the Christian Right, with good reason. When it comes to New Zealand Jews, one might think that profuse assurances of support for the existence of the State of Israel might have led to some rapport between fundamentalist Christians and the New Zealand Jewish community. However, Israel has other friends, and there are other barriers to fundamentalist/Jewish cobelligerency. Notwithstanding legitimate concerns over the abuse of Palestinian human rights and civil liberties within Israel, Palestinians have a reprehensible record of LGBT human rights abuses within Fatah, Hamas and Hezbollah to consider. Many of us feel ambivalent about supporting Palestinian rights organisations for that reason. One is the gullibility and naivety of past fundamentalist political efforts, leading to frequent New Zealand Christian Right contact with the racist, anti-Semitic and neofascist New Zealand League of Rights. New Zealand Jews have noticed this and it drove a wedge between most cobelligerency between the two religious communities. Furthermore, Reform Judaism dominates New Zealand's Jewish community, and is akin to liberal Christianity when it comes to inclusiveness. As for Buddhists and Hindus, there are no such organised traditions of opposition to LGBT equality within either religious tradition. Granted, India only recently decriminalised male homosexuality, but that was largely due to inertia, bureaucracy and poverty- and conversely, there is little sign of an organised antigay Hindu-based movement back in the mother country- although the main Bharatiya Janata Party is reportedly opposed to decriminalisation. Buddhists tend to be peaceable, contemplative and inclusive- and Buddhism is now the second largest organised faith within New Zealand. Again, there is little barrier to monogamous, vegetarian and observant LGBT Buddhists within most sanghas. One even imagines that some might welcome a public ceremony and celebration of LGBT monogamous intent within some congregations. To paraphrase Natalie Imbruglia, they're all out of faith... Recommended: Normal 0 false false false EN-NZ X-NONE X-NONE Daily News staff - 8th November 2012    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Thursday, 8th November 2012 - 12:36pm

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