KATMANDU, Nepal – KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — A Hindu priest performed the first wedding ceremony in Nepal for a foreign gay couple, a rights group said Wednesday, as activists and tourist agencies increasingly promote the Himalayan nation as a gay-friendly destination.
The ceremony was held Tuesday night in Katmandu for Sanjay Shah, 42, a Briton from Leicester, and an Indian man who did not want to be identified, said Sunil Pant, a member of Nepal's parliament and the nation's most prominent gay activist.
Pant's gay rights group, Blue Diamond Society, organized the ceremony and issued the pair a certificate for a $200 fee.
The two men were not legally married because Nepal has no laws legalizing same-sex marriage and does not marry foreigners. However, marriages performed by priests are generally accepted by society and most people who live in rural areas do not register their marriages with authorities.
Gay rights have improved dramatically in a country where just five years ago police were beating gays and transsexuals in the streets.
Now, in addition to having an openly gay parliamentarian, Nepal is issuing "third gender" identity cards and appears set to enshrine gay rights — and possibly even same-sex marriage — in a new constitution.
The charter, however, has been delayed because of bickering among political parties that have been unable to choose a new leader since Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned in June.
Tuesday's private ceremony was attended by a small number of gay rights activists and members of Pant's group. Pant said there have been a few same-sex wedding ceremonies among Nepalese people, but it was the first for a foreign gay couple.
The improvements in gay rights have become a major marketing opportunity in a country where tourism is a main driver of the economy. Government officials hope gay tourists will spend more money than the backpackers who now stay in cheap hotels and travel on shoestring budgets.
Pant's group has established Pink Mountain tour company, which caters to gay tourists and promotes Nepal as a safe destination for them. It offers gay honeymooners trekking trips in the Himalayas and has proposed same-sex wedding ceremonies at the Mount Everest base camp.