Published on August 6th, 2015 | by Harmonist staff1
Gay Marriage in the Bhagavad Gita, Part 2
In my last post I began to make a case for the idea that the Bhavagad Gita supports gay marriage, with an emphasis on the rights and obligations that marriage bestows on the parties involved. Early in the Gita, Krishna confirms our spiritual status as eternally unique individuals (BG 2.12) and, at the end of the Gita, Krishna encourages Arjuna to make up his own mind about what he should do (BG 18.63). Hence, an essential lesson from the Gita is that we are endowed with free will; the right and responsibility to decide for ourselves how we should each respond to our own destiny.
Straight couples in the United States have long enjoyed the right to get married if their destiny were such that they felt inspired to do so. Not so for gay couples.
The recent United States Supreme Court decision on gay marriage has upheld that depriving gay couples of the same right to decide how to respond to their destiny enjoyed by straight couples is an injustice. Arjuna’s dharma – his social obligation – is to fight in defense of justice. And dharma, in the sense of justice, is a law that is just by definition; there may be such a thing as an unjust law but there is no such thing as unjust dharma. The question for those who aspire to follow in Arjuna’s footsteps is, ‘did the justices make a decision that conformed to dharma?’
Answering the challenge of transposing traditional Vedic values across time and geography in a way that retains the essence of its intentions while adjusting appropriately to modern circumstances is the responsibility of those who aspire to promote Vedic values for present and future generations while keeping the Vedic tradition from descending into fundamentalism. There is no verse in the Gita where Krishna specifically says, “I support gay marriage”. It should therefore be understood that I’m speaking in terms of ascertaining the proper contemporary application of the Gita’s timeless teachings relative to its universally applicable philosophical conclusion that all relative dharmas are subordinate to an absolute dharma: complete and fearless surrender, motivated by love, to the will of the Supreme Person.
The issue is important because love of the Supreme person is inclusive by definition: to love the Supreme Being is to love everyone because everyone is part of the Supreme Being. Understanding how that love manifests in terms of social relationships is part of the work of instigating global social changes that will support spiritual advancement for everyone. The most universal institution that carries the potential for spiritual advancement for all parties concerned is marriage.
Which brings us to “Holy Matrimony”. ‘Holy’, as an adjective in this case, means ‘devoted to the service of God; morally or spiritually perfect and of a devoutly religious character; dedicated to religious purposes’. The word ‘matrimony’ has its roots in the French word matremoine, which appears around 1300 CE and is derived from the Latin word matrem – meaning ‘mother’ – monium – indicating an action, state, or condition. The clear assumption here is that motherhood follows marriage so “Holy Matrimony” is a condition entered into for the sake of sanctifying our sexual propensity by making a commitment to take responsibility for the natural outcome of sexual intercourse by offering material support and spiritual guidance to one another and to the children born of their union.
This traditional understanding finds support in both the Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as controlled and constructive engagement of one’s sexual energy and devotional service to the Supreme Being. In the spiritual culture that forms the backdrop for both texts, marriage is a very formal and ritualized stage of life lived as a sacred commitment. Krishna does not repudiate or change this conception of marriage anywhere in the Bhagavad Gita.
For readers who may be concerned that I am conflating yoga with religion and couldn’t care less what ‘religion’ has to say about gay marriage, the Latin root of the word ‘religion’ is ‘re-ligio’, meaning ‘again, to connect’, as in reassembling a ligature or binding. In other words, the original intention of religion is to reconnect us with the source of our being. In this sense the words ‘religion’ and ‘yoga’ – union – are virtually synonymous and I am using the word ‘religion’ accordingly.