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Where Does Bali Stand on LGBT Travel?

Editorial: Hypocrisy and Mixed Signals Seem to Color Bali’s Ongoing Reaction to Gay Weddings

A witch hunt is now underway on the Island of Bali that when viewed on a certain level seems highly hypocritical and inconsistent.

Many ranking officials in Bali are in an uproar, adopting poses of righteous indignation over pictures posted on Facebook of several same-sex weddings taking place in Bali.

Despite this brouhaha, it should be clarified at the outset that, in fact, no "gay weddings" have actually taken place in Bali. Indonesian law does not recognize same-sex legal unions.

Therefore, at most, what has taken place is nothing more than private symbolic ceremonies, parades or fantasy pageants performed at the request of same-sex couples.

Because these ceremonies have no legal standing in Indonesian law and have not been promoted as “legal weddings,” it is difficult to understand what, if any law, they violate.

Nonetheless, officials are up in arms, declaring that gay unions are deemed "unnatural" by every religion in the world, and, as such, even the pretence of a same-sex union in Bali is religiously repugnant to the Bali-Hindu religion and undermine local culture and religion.

Yet, historical acknowledgement of homosexuality in Hinduism is both widespread and remarkably amiable. Homosexuality occupies its own place as an endemic sub-culture within Hinduism; neither foreign nor imported in its origins from ancient times to now. The sacred and ancient Hindu "Vedas" refer to a revered "third sex" - people who are impotent or lack sexual inclinations towards the opposite sex. While the Kama Sutra - the Hindu guide to human sexuality, encourages same sex carnal unions as something "to be engaged in and enjoyed for its own sake as one of the arts."

While the discussion of the historical roots of homosexuality in the history of Hinduism should be left to qualified theologians and historians, the current hubbub over the gay marriage receptions in Bali seems, on several levels, both confusing and somewhat hypocritical.

Many question have arisen on how individuals dressed as "pemangku" - individuals qualified to preside at Bali-Hindu religious rituals – have managed to be photographed at both the “gay weddings” in question. While police are busily questioning hotel workers, wedding organizers and others about the illegal “gay weddings,” nothing is said in the local press regarding the willing participation of religious figures who would be expected to refuse to participate in any activity genuinely offensive to their faith.

What is the Official Position in Bali on LGBT Travel?

To clarify what is becoming an increasing unclear situation, the Governor, as leader of the province, should convene a conference to fully consider and proclaim the Island's stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) travel.

The Global LGBT travel market is estimated to have an annual value of around US$200 billion - a figure arguably more than the much-coveted Mainland Chinese travel market. Moreover, many international airlines, destination tourism promotion boards, and hotels have specific sales divisions and dedicated budgets set aside to attracting the LGBT traveler. Moreover, it would be difficult to find any hotel operating in Bali that does not claim itself to be “gay friendly” and eager to serve this much-coveted market populated with a disproportionate number of high-earning individuals with strong levels of disposable spending.

In fact, Bali already has a huge LBGT tourism sector. A search of the Internet or a drive down the Island’s roadways quickly reveals high profile business not only offering gay wedding receptions, but both “gay friendly” and “gay only” accommodation, same-sex massages and spa treatments, gay tour services; gay saunas and gay bars.

One well-known street in Seminyak is home to a number of gay nightspots replete with go-go boys and large crowds of domestic tourists who line up each night just to watch the comings and goings of the bars' patrons.

Beyond the current debate over gay wedding receptions in Bali, the “pink” elephant in the room is a thriving LGBT business sector in Bali that provides employment, pays taxes and helps to fill hotels rooms with well-heeled, high-spending travelers.

We suggest that Bali’s leaders need to declare a pause in the current debate over gay weddings and decide the much larger issue of the Island's overall stance towards LGBT travel; deciding either to ban it altogether while accepting financial consequences of such a decision, or setting real and enforceable limits on the allowable scope of activities for LGBT businesses in Bali.

To merely chip away at "gay weddings" in Bali fails to address the real issues and has the potential of undermining a very lucrative segment of the travel market that, if properly monitored and controlled, need not irreparably undermine local values and mores.

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