South African priest upsets Hindu community after gay wedding rites

Durban, South Africa - A Tamil priest who conducted South Africa's first known gay wedding by Hindu rites has gone underground as upset community leaders slammed the elaborate wedding of two young men, complete with embossed invitations, outfits from India and one tying a necklace with a pendant of Lord Ganesha on his partner.

Sales advisor Joe Singh and manager Wesley Nolan, both 21, spent 18 months preparing for their wedding, after first meeting in the company that they both work for.

Singh said that he and Nolan were both "staunch Hindus" hence the Ganesha pendant to "ward off evil and remove obstacles from their path".

Nolan's parents disapproved of the relationship and did not attend the wedding, which took place at the residence of Singh's stepfather Krish Govender and his mother Rita.

The traditional Hindu ceremony was conducted by a priest who preferred to remain anonymous as he guided the couple into first having a hawan (ceremonial fire prayer) and then getting Nolan to tie a necklace with a pendant of Ganesha around Singh's neck.

The couple did not tie the traditional 'thali' string that a husband ties around his bride's neck or even place any 'kumkum' dots on each others' foreheads.

Nolan justified this by saying that there was "no woman in this relationship. We are both husbands, so it would have been inappropriate to tie a thali".

But this, as well as the agreement by the priest to conduct the ceremony, has upset Hindu leaders who said that the marriage was not in conformance with Hindu scripture.

"The Hindu wedding ceremony is between a male and a female - that is what the scripture says," South African Hindu Mahasabha president Ashwin Trikamjee said.

"The essence of the Hindu marriage is the fact that before the marriage proper takes place the parents have to formally consent to their daughter, called 'kanya' in Sanskrit, to be married to a male."

South African Tamil Federation president Mickey Chetty echoed similar sentiments: "We do not sanction such a union or the actions of the priest who sanctified it."

But human rights activists have supported the right of the couple to get married, as South African legislation recognises same sex marriages.

Singh's mother Rita Govender said her entire family supported her decision to insist that the young men have a traditional ceremony.

"I did not want them to live in sin," Govender told the weekly Post.

"People can gossip about their relationship but we don't care. I hope this encourages other parents to accept their children for who they are. Gay couples should not hide in shame. They are human and deserve to lead a normal life."

Singh and Nolan, who have headed to Mauritius for a honeymoon, said their plans as a married couple included adopting a child.