AMRITSAR, INDIA — On the eve of her historic visit to the Golden Temple, the Sikh faith’s most revered place, Premier Kathleen Wynne found herself front-page news in one of India’s largest newspapers.
“Pro-gay Ontario premier runs into an ethical wall in Punjab,” thundered the breathless headline on the Hindustan Times, which has a nationwide circulation of 1.1 million.
According to the paper, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee “has decided not to honour the Canadian leader with a siropa (robe of honour) during her visit to the Golden Temple on Sunday.”
“Reason: Wynne, a lesbian, is a supporter of same-sex marriages, a practice opposed by the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs,” the daily continued.
But the premier — who, along with her spouse, Jane Rounthwaite, has been greeted warmly during the Ontario trade mission to India, including Saturday night in Amritsar by the mayor and local ministers — was surprised by the story, because there’s been no such edict.
“It took me aback. But homophobia is not surprising,” Wynne said in interview as she prepared for her Golden Temple pilgrimage.
“We’ve just been through that in Ontario. We know that it’s there. The best antidote is to carry on,” the premier said.
“I feel strongly about going to the Golden Temple because it is such an important place for the country, but it’s such an important place for people in Ontario,” she said.
“I’ve heard the stories so many times from Indo-Canadians and I want to honour that place,” added Wynne.
“So I will go in any case. Whatever the capital-P, small-P politics around that, I know I will be welcomed. I have been welcomed since I got here. People have been gracious and very happy that we’re here. So I am focusing on why we came.”
Interestingly, the Hindustan Times cited last year’s protests by religious social conservatives against the province’s revised sex-education curriculum as evidence “her relations with minority ethnic communities, especially Sikhs and Muslims, in Ontario have been strained.”
Liberal MPP Harinder Takhar (Mississauga-Erindale), one of three Sikh legislators accompanying Wynne, played down the kerfuffle.
Takhar emphasized that Sikhs are welcoming and tolerant.
“There should be really no issues. I am sure it’s going to be fine,” he said.
It’s not the first time a Canadian politician visiting India has faced controversy over Canada’s progressive stance on social issues.
In 2005, then prime minister Paul Martin’s tour of the Golden Temple came against the backdrop of the House of Commons debate on the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Back then, the world’s highest Sikh authority urged Sikh-Canadian MPs to block the bill in Parliament, saying anyone who voted for it would be ostracized for flouting their religious duty.
In a blunt warning to observant Sikhs, Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti had described severe consequences facing any MP who dared to defy his directive on “the laws of nature.”
Vedanti told the Toronto Star's Martin Regg Cohn in a 2005 interview in Amritsar that he personally reminded six visiting Sikh-Canadian MPs during their earlier visit of their religious duty to oppose gay marriage legislation being debated by Parliament:
“The Sikh religion would never accept such MPs… it is against the Sikh religion and the Sikh code of conduct and totally against the laws of nature,” he argued at the time, though subsequent federal and provincial elections proved otherwise.