Psychology instructor part of Nepal’s first public lesbian wedding
February 1, 2012
By: Greg Glasgow

news-CourtneyMitchell2012.jpgCourtney Mitchell, left, and her partner, Sarah Welton, made history in June when they became the first lesbian couple to publicly wed in Nepal. Photo courtesy of Courtney Mitchell.

It’s not so unusual that Courtney Mitchell, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, would want to return to the country for her wedding. But Mitchell and her partner, Sarah Welton, made history in June when they became the first lesbian couple to publicly wed in Nepal.

“What I had hoped was that this would be a good opportunity to have our wedding be a meaningful experience politically … and at the same time get to show Sarah Nepal,” says Mitchell, an instructor in DU’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology. “I lived there for six years and it was very important to me, so I knew I would take her back at some point and I also knew we wanted to get married at some point, so it seemed like a perfect combination in terms of the opportunity.”

The wedding was organized and publicized by the Blue Diamond Society, a Nepal-based gay-rights organization run by Sunil Babu Pant, a gay Nepalese lawmaker Mitchell met during her Peace Corps service. Through his Pink Mountain Travels, Pant hopes to encourage the adoption of same-sex marriage laws in Nepal by packaging the issue as a tourism initiative.

“He basically said, ‘Look, we can capitalize on all this tourism money Bangkok and other big hubs in the region receive because they are known as being gay-friendly and really make Nepal this regional model for being welcoming to same sex couples and more specifically being supportive of same sex marriage,’” Mitchell says, noting that Nepal has made significant progress in sexual-minority rights in recent years.

Held at Dakshinkali Temple, a popular Hindu shrine on the outskirts of Kathmandu, and performed by a Hindu priest, the ceremony hewed to Nepalese customs, with traditional music, clothing and food. Mitchell says it was important to the couple to show their respect for the Nepali culture. She hopes her wedding will inspire same-sex couples and lawmakers in Nepal and elsewhere to keep pushing for same-sex marriage rights.

“The important thing is the implications for Nepal,” she says. “I hope that people in the States would understand and appreciate why we chose to do what we did, but what matters more to me and will always matter more is the perception of Nepalis in terms of what we did and the implications for local sexual minority rights.”

Mitchell and Welton have considered making their union official in Iowa, where gay marriage is legal, but for now they’re waiting to see how things shake out in Colorado. They have an adopted daughter — all the more reason, Mitchell says, to be considered a legitimate married couple. They hired a private attorney to help with domestic beneficiary forms, joint property agreements and the like, but it isn’t the same, she says, as being officially married.

“It’s deeply disturbing to me that we couldn’t be perceived as a legitimate married couple in the state of Colorado,” she says. “I do believe that marriage is meaningful in terms of the spiritual and religious connotations and people having that choice to participate in a spiritual ceremony, as opposed to just having a beneficiary form or something comparable.”

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