U.S. conservatives praise Russia’s anti-gay laws

lively

Anti-gay activist Scott Lively

Two longtime opponents of the U.S. gay-rights movement on Friday announced formation of a coalition that will seek to persuade more countries around the world to follow Russia’s example in passing laws that restrict gay rights, the Associated Press reported.

The activists, Massachusetts-based evangelical lawyer Scott Lively and Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, praised two recently enacted Russian laws that have been assailed by gay-rights supporters worldwide. The protests have intensified amid Russia’s hosting of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

One law seeks to prevent gays and lesbians from adopting children, while the other — a ban on so-called gay “propaganda” accessible by minors — is seen as a deterrent to public expressions of gay-rights sentiment.

“By taking these steps in the face of intense criticism and hostility … the Russians have demonstrated the high value that they place on their children and the natural family model of society,” the newly formed Coalition for Family Values said. “We believe that God will bless the Russian people for their faith and courage.”

Lively and LaBarbera said the new coalition will encourage allies abroad to lobby their own governments to follow Russia’s example.

“While the LGBT agenda has seemed like an unstoppable political juggernaut in North America and Europe, the vast majority of the people of the world do not accept the notion that sexual deviance should be normalized,” their statement said.

The formation of the coalition was assailed by the Human Rights Campaign, the largest U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.

“Americans aren’t buying the hate these anti-LGBT extremists are selling, so they’ve been forced to take their take their dangerous rhetoric abroad,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “These radicals are now traveling from country to country advocating for the persecution of LGBT people under the guise that they’re saving children.”

Among the groups joining the coalition were Lively’s Defend the Family International, the American Family Association of Pennsylvania and Mission:America.

Lively conducted a 50-city speaking tour of Russia in 2007, and says the gay propaganda bill — enacted last year — reflects policies that he advocated at the time.

Lively is being sued in U.S. federal court by a Uganda-based gay-rights group, accusing him of persecuting gays in that East African country.

The suit contends that he was a key figure in consultations in Uganda that produced tough anti-gay legislation in 2009. A version of that bill is expected to be signed soon by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

—  Steve Ramos

Was Gingrich glitter-bomb an embarrassment to the gay rights movement or just plain fabulous?

As you’ve quite possibly heard, anti-gay GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was glitter-bombed by a gay activist Tuesday, during a book-signing prior to a fundraiser for the right-wing Minneapolis Family Council. Watch video of the incident from the AP below.

Clayton M. McCleskey, a contributing writer for the Dallas Morning News, writes on the newspaper’s Opinion Blog that he thinks the incident was “an embarrassment to the gay community and to the gay rights movement”:

If gay rights activists take issue with Gingrich’s less-than-enlightened stance on gay rights, then there are many ways for them to raise the issue. Taking a bag of glitter and dumping it on Gingrich’s head is not one of them. That was a cheap shot. If the goal is to show that gays should be treated like the normal folks they are, is it all that productive to bring glitter into the debate?

According to Andrew Belonsky at Death+Taxes, the glitter bomb was not only productive, it was “fabulous”:

ACT-UP’s members enacted the most sensational and compelling of all gay protests: in 1987, they sprawled out at the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway to demand more access to newly developed AIDS drugs, and that same year hung their famous “Silence Equals Death” banner in front of Ronald Reagan’s White House. Seventeen years later, ten nude ACT-UP activists protests the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York.

Though some of the group’s protests were grim, they all effectively employed a blithe spirit, catapulting them onto front pages around the nation, and the world. So too has Erickson’s stunt, which will hopefully inspire more imaginative and playful protests that capture the nation’s attention.

What do you think?

—  John Wright

Gay Polish soccer fans want separate seating

Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland — A group of gay Polish soccer fans has called on the organizers of the 2012 European Championships to set aside separate seating for gays and lesbians to protect them from harrassment and violence.

But other gay rights activists criticized the proposal Wednesday, saying it would single gay fans out and put them at greater risk.

Teczowa Trybuna 2012, or Rainbow Stand 2012, calls itself the first gay fan club for Poland’s national team. It says on its website that its members fear aggression from other fans and want to feel safe during the championship in Poland and neighboring Ukraine.

“During trips to matches of our beloved clubs … we unfortunately are often faced with unpleasantness, harassment and violence from the ‘real’ fans,” it said. “We dream of being able to relax in the stands — we can’t imagine not being at the Euro 2012 matches, which will be held in our country!”

Polish soccer matches are often the scene of violent attacks and fights involving hooligans.

Homophobia also remains deeply embedded in Poland because of the legacy of communism — which treated homosexuality as a taboo — and the teachings of the church in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

One match venue, the city of Gdansk, rejected the group’s call for separate seating, saying it would stigmatize gays. And some gay rights groups are distancing themselves from the appeal.

Gregory Czarnecki of the Campaign Against Homophobia, a leading gay rights group in Warsaw, said he believes that very few gays and lesbians would willingly choose separate seating.

“I understand their initiative, and what they are trying to do,” Czarnecki told The Associated Press.

“But the message might be counterproductive in Poland,” he said. “I don’t think many people would be brave enough to not only come out, but also to sit in this section.”

—  John Wright

HRC accused of ‘spitting in face’ of Milk’s memory

Cleve Jones, others criticize organization’s plans for ‘Action Center’ at site of slain gay rights leader’s Castro Street store

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — On the surface, the new tenant at the storefront where Harvey Milk waged his historic political campaign would seem like the last organization to anger people in the gay community.

The Human Rights Campaign, the United States’ largest gay rights lobbying group, wants to open up an information center and a gift shop in the building that would pay tribute to the slain gay rights leader.

But Milk’s friends and admirers are so incensed at the group taking over the slain San Francisco supervisor’s stomping grounds that they would rather see a Starbucks there, underscoring the tensions that exist within the various factions of the gay rights movement.

The organization is a frequent target of criticism from gay rights activists who consider its mainstream, “inside the Beltway” style ineffective. They believe the organization’s philosophy of incremental progress in the gay rights movement runs completely counter to the uncompromising message of gay pride championed by Milk.

“It’s spitting in the face of Harvey’s memory,” said AIDS Memorial Quilt founder Cleve Jones, who received his political education at Milk’s side in the 1970s.

“What’s next? Removing the Mona Lisa’s face and replacing it with the Wal-Mart smiley face?” asked Bil Browning, the founder of a popular gay issues blog.

The Washington-based nonprofit organization announced last week that it was moving its San Francisco “Action Center” and gift store into the site of Milk’s old Castro Camera.

It’s a historic site in the gay rights community. A sidewalk plaque outside that marks the spot’s historical significance and encases some of Milk’s ashes is a popular stop for visitors making pilgrimages to San Francisco gay landmarks.

In the 32 years since Milk was assassinated at City Hall along with Mayor George Moscone, the building has housed a clothing store, a beauty supply shop, and most recently, a housewares emporium.

HRC President Joe Solmonese said the new location will stock items bearing Milk’s words and image, with a portion of the proceeds going to a local elementary school named in Milk’s honor and the GLBT Historical Society. The organization also plans to preserve a Milk mural the previous tenants installed, Solmonese said.

“People are rightly protective of the legacy of Harvey Milk, and we intend to do our part to honor that legacy,” Human Rights Campaign spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz said. “Bringing an LGBT civil rights presence to the space that has previously been several for-profit retail outlets is a worthwhile goal.”

Not according to activists like Jones and Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter who won an Oscar for Milk — the 2008 Sean Penn movie about the first openly gay man elected to a major elected office in the U.S.

During his life, Milk railed against well-heeled gay leaders he regarded as assimilationists and elitists — Black devoted two scenes in Milk to the subject. Some of the leading activists he crossed swords with went on to launch the Human Rights Campaign, which sometimes is criticized for focusing on lavish fundraisers and political access at the expense of results, Jones said.

“He was not an ‘A-Gay’ and had no desire to be an A-Gay. He despised those people and they despised him,” he said. “That, to me, is the crowd HRC represents. Don’t try to wrap yourself up in Harvey Milk’s mantle and pretend you are one of us.”

The Human Rights Campaign has been struggling to regain its credibility with gay activists who favor a more grassroots approach since at least early 2008, when the group agreed to endorse a federal bill that included job protections for gays and lesbians, but not transgender people.

The disillusionment grew later that year with the passage of a same-sex marriage ban in California. Although HRC donated $3.4 million to fight Proposition 8, the devastating loss provoked young gay activists to take to the streets and to question the organizing and messaging abilities of established gay rights groups.

Since then, HRC has been accused of taking too soft an approach with President Barack Obama and the Congress that until last month’s election was controlled by Democrats. To some, the group’s failings were epitomized by the U.S. Senate failure last week, for the second time this year, to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military.

Black said HRC’s failure to talk to anyone close to Milk before it leased the Castro Street storefront demonstrates that it is out of touch. He and Jones think the space would be put to better use as a drop-in center for gay and lesbian youth, or if HRC partnered with another local nonprofit to ensure its sales benefit San Francisco.

“If any LGBTQ political organization is to move into Harvey’s old shop, there is a higher standard to be met, because such a move begs comparisons,” Black said. “Because it has become a tourist destination, whoever moves in that’s a political organization is in some way adopting Harvey as their own.”

HRC creative director Don Kiser understands the concerns and says he is open to suggestions, but thinks the criticism is overstated. The group obtains about one-third of the new names on its mailing lists from visitors to its retail stores in San Francisco, Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Washington. Each tourist who goes in to buy a Harvey Milk T-shirt or an HRC tote bag is a potential activist, Kiser says.

“They live in small towns in Texas and flyover states. Those are the people we need to help find the spirit that Harvey Milk had,” he said. “If they can go back and take a little of the spirit the Castro has, we will see sea changes.”

—  John Wright

Facebook backs Texas anti-bullying bill

The Star-Telegram reports that Facebook has endorsed an anti-bullying measure filed by State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. The bill would require school districts to provide training for employees and educate students and parents about bullying and cyberbullying. It would also require school officials to immediately notify parents about incidents of bullying, and grant districts the authority to transfer bullies and victims:

“Facebook supports the bill and we are encouraged to see the Texas legislature take steps to keep our schools places where students can feel safe,” Corey Owens, a lobbyist for Facebook, wrote in a letter to Strama. “As a company with a significant presence in Texas – including employees who send their children to Texas public schools – we are committed to building an online platform that is safe for users of all ages.”

Strama’s bill, HB 224, would require school districts in Texas to track the number of incidents of bullying based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation. However, Strama’s bill doesn’t include gender identity/expression, meaning it’s unlikely to receive the backing of Equality Texas, at least in its current form.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, has filed a bill that’s nearly identical to Strama’s in the Senate. But unlike Strama’s, Davis’ SB 245 does include gender identity/expression in the tracking requirement. Davis’ bill was inspired by and has the backing of Joel Burns, who replaced Davis on the Fort Worth City Council and has since become famous for his “It Gets Better” speech:

“I have focused the message on the responsibility of adults to end bullying by creating a culture of respect,” Burns said. “The reporting tools in Sen. Davis’ bill will give us the data we need to prioritize resources and understand how we can do better educating and supporting children to learn and be a success.”

The Star-Telegram explains the difference between the two bills as follows:

Strama’s and Davis’ bills differ in one area drawing the attention of some gay rights activists. Both bills require districts to annually report how many bullying incidents they faced, including how many incidents were based on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Davis said she included “gender identity and expression” to her list of categories to make sure districts looked at bullying situations that arose due to “a perception of someone’s sexuality rather than the reality.” Strama said that phrase might be added to his bill as well.

Davis is correct in the sense that “gender identity/expression” includes some students who are perceived to be gay or lesbian. But these students are already covered because the bill clearly states, “actual or perceived sexual orientation.” The real difference between the bills — and the Star-Telegram should know this — is that Davis’ bill includes transgender students, whereas Strama’s bill does not.



—  John Wright

What does Ken Mehlman have to say about his former boss, anti-gay Texas Rep. Lamar Smith?

Congressman Lamar Smith, R-Texas

If we could ask Ken Mehlman only one question, it might just be something about his one-time boss Lamar Smith.

Mehlman, the formerly anti-gay former RNC chair who recently came out as gay, served as Smith’s legislative director in the 1990s. Smith, meanwhile, seems to be vying for the title of No. 1 homophobe in Congress.

• In August, Smith sponsored a resolution to condemn U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

• Also in August, Smith announced plans to introduce federal legislation that would define marriage as between one man and one woman.

• And now, Smith is asking a federal court to allow him to intervene in a case to help defend the Defense of Marriage Act, according to Keen News Service. The Alliance Defense Fund announced Tuesday it had filed motions on behalf of Smith asking to intervene in two cases in which a U.S. district judge in Massachusetts declared DOMA unconstitutional. The ADF argues on behalf of Smith that the Obama administration isn’t doing enough to defend the 1996 law, which some gay-rights activists don’t think the administration should be defending at all.

Interestingly, Smith’s Democratic opponent in November, Lainey Melnick, touts her opposition to DOMA prominently in the issues section of her website:

“It will be up to the [Supreme Court] to decide if the Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution by forcing the states to discriminate against same-sex couples,” Melnick writes. “This decision could uphold that federal encroachment over the areas where states have sovereign jurisdiction, such as with marriage, is unconstitutional and leaves marriage in the hands of the states. This question is to be answered by the courts, not the Congress. But I do believe that the US Constitution provides equal rights for all people, including same sex couples who want to get married, who want to own property, who want to make medical decisions, who want to share insurance expenses, who want to immigrate, who want to work, who want to serve in our military, and who deserve to live their lives free of discrimination.”

Unfortunately, Smith represents a pretty safe Republican district in Central Texas, and Melnick is facing some long odds. But who knows, maybe Smith’s one-time legislative director, Ken Mehlman, has something to tell us about him.

—  John Wright

The Dallas Morning News straight-washes a story about gay-rights activist Jesse Garcia

Suffice to say, Jesse Garcia has never tried to hide his sexual orientation and won’t be going back into the closet anytime soon.

After all, Garcia is the immediate past president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and the current president of the city’s gay LULAC chapter. So we’re pretty sure Garcia mentioned an LGBT issue or two — like maybe the fact that incumbent Rick Perry has a virulently anti-gay record — during his recent interview with The Dallas Morning News about the governor’s race.

But guess what? The DMN didn’t say a word in the story about Garcia’s sexual orientation or his status as a gay-rights activist. Seriously, this is akin to straight-washing Elton John.

Garcia was featured in a piece, shown below, about the Hispanic voting bloc, which is expected to heavily back Democrat Bill White. The focus is Hispanic — fair enough — but we’re sorry, you’ve gotta at least mention that Garcia has made a name for himself as a gay activist, and that the LGBT voting bloc is also expected to heavily back White.

Otherwise, it comes off looking like the newspaper gives less than a shit about gay issues. Either that or they just agree with Perry.

—  John Wright

Lesbian seeks reinstatement to Air Force; DADT opponents hope for another big legal victory

GENE JOHNSON | Associated Press

SEATTLE — Opponents of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy against gays serving in the military were hoping for another major legal victory as a federal trial began Monday, Sept. 13 over whether to reinstate a lesbian flight nurse discharged from the Air Force Reserve.

The trial comes just days after a federal judge in California declared “don’t ask, don’t tell” an unconstitutional violation of the due process and free speech rights of gays and lesbians. While the ruling does not affect the legal issues in the case of former Maj. Margaret Witt, gay rights activists believe a victory — and her reinstatement — could help build momentum for repealing the policy.

“There’s already political momentum to do something to repeal this unfair statute,” said Aaron Caplan, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who is on Witt’s legal team. “Judicial opinions from multiple jurisdictions saying there’s a constitutional problem with this ought to encourage Congress to act more swiftly.”

Witt was a member of a squadron based at McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma when she was suspended in 2004 and honorably discharged. She challenged the constitutionality of her dismissal, and a federal appeals court panel ruled in 2008 that the military could not discharge service members for being gay unless it proved that the firing furthered military readiness.

The case was sent back to U.S. District Court in Tacoma for Judge Robert Leighton to determine whether Witt’s firing met that standard. Several of Witt’s former colleagues are expected to testify that she was an excellent nurse, and it was her dismissal — not her sexual orientation — that caused morale problems in the unit.

Justice Department lawyers representing the Air Force note that the case has put them in the position of defending a law neither the president nor the department itself believes is good policy. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also favors repealing the 1993 law, which prohibits the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members but allows the discharge of those who acknowledge being gay or are discovered to be engaging in homosexual activity.

Government lawyers nevertheless insist Witt’s firing was justified — and that the panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not know the extent of her conduct when it sided with her in 2008. That conduct included a long-term relationship with a civilian woman, an affair with a woman who was married at the time and two earlier relationships with fellow servicewomen, Witt acknowledged in a deposition in May.

It was a 2004 e-mail from the husband of the married woman to the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. John Jumper, that prompted the investigation into Witt’s sexuality.

Witt acknowledged the extramarital affair was not consistent with good “officership.” She also said she told two members of her unit about her orientation — forcing them to choose between loyalty to Witt and Air Force policy, the Air Force argues.

For those reasons, it says, Witt’s firing did further military goals, even if 19 current and former members of Witt’s unit have submitted declarations saying they had no problem serving with her.

“Those co-workers are not military commanders, and the military cannot operate by a unit referendum process in which disciplinary policies and outcomes are determined by the individual opinions of a few unit members,” Justice Department attorney Peter J. Phipps wrote in a court filing.

The Air Force also says Witt can’t be reinstated because she no longer meets Air Force nursing requirements, something Witt’s attorneys dispute.

Witt’s attorneys, led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, say that it is the Air Force’s burden to prove that her reinstatement would be a detriment to unit cohesion. And, ACLU attorney Sarah Dunne says, the Air Force has provided no such evidence.

Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., an expert witness for the government, said in a deposition that he didn’t know if Witt’s reinstatement would negatively affect military functions, and the current commander of Witt’s unit, Col. Janette Moore-Harbert, acknowledged having no evidence to that effect.

The trial is expected to last seven days. Meanwhile, the Senate could take up a defense bill passed by the House that includes a provision to end “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

—  John Wright

Groups step up pressure as clock winds down on DADT repeal

DAVID CRARY  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — Elated by a major court victory, gay-rights activists are stepping up pressure on Congress to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy this month. They want to avoid potentially lengthy appeals and fear their chances for a legislative fix will fade after Election Day.

The House voted in May to repeal the 17-year-old policy banning openly gay service members. Many majority Democrats in the Senate want to take up the matter in the remaining four weeks before the pre-election recess, but face opposition from Republican leaders.

National gay-rights groups, fearing possible Democratic losses on Nov. 2, urged their supporters Friday, Sept. 10 to flood senators’ offices with phone calls and e-mails asking that the Senate vote on the measure during the week of Sept. 20.

“If we don’t speak up now, our window for repeal could close,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Supporters of repeal hope senators heed the ruling issued Thursday in Los Angeles by U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips, who said ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was an unconstitutional violation of the due process and free speech rights of gays and lesbians.

The policy has a “direct and deleterious effect” on the military by hurting recruitment efforts during wartime and requiring the discharge of service members who have critical skills and training, she said.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a Republican gay-rights organization, sued the federal government in 2004 to stop the policy, and Phillips said she would draft an order within a week doing just that. The U.S. Department of Justice hasn’t yet said whether it will appeal the ruling; spokesman Charles Miller said attorneys were reviewing it.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen — both in favor of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” — say they prefer that the change wait until the military completes a review of the issue. That study, due in December, includes surveys of troops and their families to get their views and help determine how a change would be implemented.

Gay-rights activists, worried that the election could tilt the balance of power in Congress, don’t want to wait.

“We’re pleased by the judge’s decision, but this decision is likely to be appealed and will linger for years,” said Aubrey Sarvis of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which has lobbied against ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’

The House-passed repeal measure is contained in a broader defense policy bill which has yet to be sent to the Senate floor because of an objection by Republican Sen. John McCain during debate in the Armed Services Committee.

McCain said it was “disgraceful” to push for a vote on the repeal before completion of the Pentagon review.

Democrats, who effectively hold 59 Senate seats, will need at least some Republican support to reach the 60 votes needed to pass the bill. Republican Susan Collins of Maine voted for repeal in committee.

The Senate has a packed agenda for the next few weeks before its recess, and Republicans have warned that they might not make time for the defense bill if it contains controversial amendments. Along with the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal, it includes a proposal that would allow female service members to receive abortions at military facilities.

Among those on the spot is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who must decide how hard to push for a vote on the repeal.

Over the summer, Reid was given the West Point ring of Lt. Dan Choi, an Iraq war veteran who was discharged from the New York Army National Guard because he was open about his homosexuality. Choi said he would take back the ring only when ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was repealed, and he was among many activists urging Reid to press hard for a vote.

“The time for accountability has come,” Choi said Friday. “Sen. Reid needs to follow the leadership of Judge Phillips and take immediate action to support the men and women serving in our nation’s military.”

President Barack Obama has said he would like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repealed, but wants Congress to take the lead in accomplishing that. Republicans on Friday called on the administration to defend the law until the Defense Department had a chance to complete its review.

“After making the continuous sacrifice of fighting two wars over the course of eight years, the men and women of our military deserve to be heard — and have earned that right,” said California Rep. Buck McKeon, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

During the trial before Phillips, government attorneys presented only the policy’s legislative history in their defense and called no witnesses.

Justice Department attorney Paul G. Freeborne argued that the issue should be decided by Congress rather than in court. He said the plaintiffs were trying to force a federal court to overstep its bounds and halt the policy as it is being debated by lawmakers.

In 2008, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the law itself is constitutional, but the way the military applies it is not. The court said it’s OK to discharge people for being gay — but only if the military proves that the dismissal furthers military readiness.

The Pentagon has ignored that ruling over the past two years, continuing to discharge gays without making such a showing.

The case before the 9th Circuit concerned former Maj. Margaret Witt, a decorated Air Force flight nurse discharged for having a long-term relationship with a civilian woman in Washington state. Witt continues to seek reinstatement, and a federal trial was scheduled to begin Monday, Sept. 13 in Tacoma over whether her firing actually furthered military goals.

Phillips’ decision was the third federal court ruling since July to assert that statutory limits on the rights of gays and lesbians were unconstitutional. Earlier, federal judges ruled against California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, and against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition to same-sex marriages even in states such as Massachusetts that allow them.

—  John Wright

1st foreign gay couple marries in Nepal — a new destination

BINAJ GURUBACHARYA  |  Associated Press

KATMANDU, Nepal — A Hindu priest performed the first wedding ceremony in Nepal for a foreign gay couple, a rights group said Wednesday, Aug. 18, 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.

—  John Wright