Kathmandu, Apr.21 (ANI): In 2007, Nepal had classified homosexuality as a crime, punishable by up to two years in prison, but now, the Himalayan nation is about to become the first in Asia to allow same-sex marriages. It is also promoting gay weddings on the world famous Mt. Everest in an attempt to become the continent's top gay tourism destination.
"We're completely changing this country. It's a newborn republic - and we want to showcase this change," The Times quoted Nepal's Tourism Minister Sharat Singh Bhandari, as saying.
"We also want to re-establish tourism as a major industry."
Bhandari says he is aiming to attract at least one million tourists to Nepal in 2011, more than double the number last year.
He kicked off the marketing campaign in October with a written message to the International Conference on Gay and Lesbian Tourism in Boston - an unprecedented gesture for an Asian minister.
"As the world knows, Nepal is the land of Mount Everest, world's highest peak and the birth place of Lord Buddha, light of Asia," the message said.
"I, therefore, would like to take this opportunity to invite and welcome all the sexual and gender minorities from around the world," he said then.
Nepal is also due to host the first Asian Symposium on Gay and Lesbian Tourism in Kathmandu in June.
This sudden turnaround highlights the extraordinary change that has swept the country since a democratic uprising forced King Gyanendra to renounce absolute power in 2006 and the Maoists won power and abolished the world's last Hindu monarchy two years later.
A same-sex marriage law is working its way through the Nepal Parliament after a Supreme Court ruling in 2008 that ordered the Government to safeguard the rights of "sexual minorities". (ANI)