Same-sex couples longing to tie the knot might be flying a little further than San Francisco soon. And possibly scaling the world’s highest mountain as a honeymoon.
Looking to boost its tourism and pull itself out of poverty, Nepal is reaching out to the gay travel market with a bold proposal to offer same-sex marriage at the Everest Base Camp. Exchanging “I do”s at high altitude may sound romantic enough, but there’s more behind the move. While the marriages would hold no legal status, the symbolism of Nepal’s own struggle towards tolerance would backdrop any such ceremonies, right alongside the legendary Himalayas. It’s a striking victory and telling sign of change for Nepal.
Parliament member and founder of Pink Mountain Tour Company, Sunil Pant is the main force behind the push to attract same-sex elopers. Pant himself is a prominent gay activist and has seen the country through its turbulent evolution towards gay acceptance; same-sex marriage is currently being written into the new Nepalese constitution. Meanwhile, neighboring South Asia countries are largely regarded as not gay-friendly, the result of anti-homosexual laws.
It’s a ripe market Nepal is hoping to tap into. The majority of its current tourists are shoestring-budget backpackers who spend frugally and stay in cheap hotels. The Nepal Tourism Board sees gays as a potentially lucrative demographic. If they spend money and behave well, spokesman Aditya Baral says, “we don’t discriminate.”
The gay tourism market is lucrative, worth nearly $63 billion in the US alone. US destinations such as San Francisco and Massachusetts saw significant boosts in tourism revenue when they performed same-sex marriages. John Tanzella, president of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, says a growing segment of that market is seeking adventure travel and exotic locations that are gay-friendly. Just like Nepal.
It sounds like a match made in heaven. Or at least consecrated in the great shadow of Mount Everest.