Nepal RPCV Courtney Mitchell weds Sarah Welton in Kathmandu in Asia’s First Same-Sex Marriage

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Courtney Mitchell, a college professor, right, offers a wedding ring to Sarah Welton, a lawyer, during their wedding ceremony at a Hindu temple in Katmandu, Nepal, Monday, June 20, 2011.

We all know that Peace Corps Volunteers and RPCVs break down barriers, but how many of you knew that while New Yorkers were wringing their hands over same-sex marriage, Nepal RPCV Courtney Mitchell married fellow Denver resident Sarah Welton and made history by being the first lesbian couple to tie the knot in Asia exchanging vows in Kathamdu’s Dakshinkali temple on June 20, 2011 in Nepal under the delighted gaze of Sunil Babu Pant, the country’s one and only out and proud gay legislator.

Courtney Mitchell had originally been a Peace Corps volunteer before working for the UN’s World Food Programme in the tiny Himalayan state where she lived for six years. “I always thought I would return to Nepal, however I had never thought it this way” she told The Times of India.

For Courtney Mitchell, it was love at first sight when she arrived in Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1998. In June, Mitchell returned with her girlfriend, Sarah Welton, for a Hindu-inspired wedding and honeymoon.

“I thought if we could expose others in our lives to the transitioning landscape in terms of gay rights issues in Nepal, that would be amazing,” says Mitchell, 40, who teaches psychology at the University of Denver.

Mitchell has conducted trainings in Nepal’s LGBT community at Pant’s request. “He was interested in (education) on the history of gay rights and history in the United States, particularly Stonewall,” she said, referring to the June 27, 1969, clash between New York City police and gay patrons of the Stonewall Inn that is widely regarded as the beginning of the gay-rights movement in the U.S.

“He wanted people in Nepal to have the sense of being connected to a larger movement.”

The women, whose new last name is Welton-Mitchell, arrived home in Denver with a marriage certificate issued by the Blue Diamond Society and signed by the Hindu priest.

“We aspired to one day have a (Nepalese) government stamp on the marriage certificate,” says Courtney Welton-Mitchell, “and to have the U.S. recognize it.”

Promoting Gay Tourism in Nepal

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Attracting couples like Mitchell and Welton is part of Nepal’s plan to establish itself as the world’s newest gay tourism destination. As it begins to recover from a decade-long insurgency and a prolonged political stalemate, the country wants a share of the multibillion-dollar gay tourism market to boost its sliding economy.

Two years ago, Nepal became the first country in South Asia to decriminalize homosexuality, a move the government hoped would invite gay tourists to tie the knot and honeymoon in the Himalayas.

Since then, the country’s Supreme Court has approved same-sex marriage, asking lawmakers to guarantee gays equal rights under the new constitution. Nepal now issues “third-gender” national ID cards and elected its first openly gay lawmaker to parliament, Sunil Babu Pant, in 2008.

Pant is promoting Nepal though his Pink Mountain Travels and Tours as an adventurous and exciting destination for LGBT travellers, and offers wedding packages as well.

Tourism, the key driver of Nepal’s economy, suffered a severe blow when the Maoist insurgency peaked in 2001. Attracting high-spending gay tourists is seen as one way to make up the lost revenue.

“They spend a lot, and we want tourists in this country who will spend a lot,” says Kishore Thapa, Nepal’s secretary of tourism.

The country’s Tourism Board, which serves as a bridge between the government and the industry, is promoting travel packages for gays on the Web site for Nepal Tourism Year 2011.


References:

The Denver Post. “Denver lesbians who recently wed in Nepal hope Colorado legalizes gay marriage” by Colleen O’Connor. June 29, 2011.

The Gaily Mail “Asia’s first same-sex wedding” by Mark Watson. June 21, 2011.

The Washington Post. “After string of gay-friendly measures, Nepal aims to tap valuable tourist market” by Anup Kaphle and Habiba Nosheen. January 9, 2011.


Top Photo:

Courtney Mitchell, a college professor, right, offers a wedding ring to Sarah Welton, a lawyer, during their wedding ceremony at a Hindu temple in Katmandu, Nepal, Monday, June 20, 2011. The couple from Denver, Colorado, married in a Hindu Nepalese tradition in the first public lesbian wedding in the Himalayan nation that recently began recognizing gay rights and working to draft laws to end sexual discrimination. Photo Credit: AP | Binod Joshi