A Rare Gay Rights Victory in Japan, via Disneyland
By Yoree Koh link: WSJ
The Magic Kingdom handed gay-rights activists in Japan a rare victory recently.
The story starts in late March, when Tokyo Disneyland started accepting reservations for a high-end “Royal Dream Wedding” package, which lets lovebirds exchange vows in front of Cinderella’s castle, for 7.5 million yen ($93,000).
Curious, gay-rights activist Koyuki Higashi called the theme park to ask whether she’d be allowed to marry her girlfriend there as well.
A same-sex wedding ceremony would be no problem, a Tokyo Disneyland official told Ms. Higashi. Walt Disney Co. began opening up its glitzy fairy-tale wedding plans to same-sex couples in 2007, and Tokyo’s theme park had followed suit, although no gay marriage ceremonies had taken place there yet.
But what to wear? That’s where things got complicated.
In the Royal Dream Wedding package, couples are celebrated with a “flower shower,” followed by a reception at Cinderella’s banquet hall to be attended by costumed Disney characters. Since the couple will pass through public areas, the official insisted — in the true Disney spirit — that appearances be maintained. Only one girl could wear a dress, the official told Ms. Higashi. The other had to wear a tuxedo.
The official said Disney had to consider “how other visitors at the park who will see the couples will be impacted,” Hiroko Masuhara, the girlfriend of Ms. Higashi, told JRT on Tuesday. In other words, the resort wanted it to look like a man and a woman were marrying, even if that wasn’t the case.
“Isn’t that strange? They weren’t completely excluding same-sex couples as long as we appeared to be a man and woman,” Ms. Masuhara said. “We thought this was very Japanese, in terms of the way people think about gender.”
Ms. Higashi wrote about the exchange on her blog and Twitter. A social media storm ensued.
The Japanese theme park called Ms. Higashi a week later retracting the dress requirement. Female couples could both wear dresses; male couples could both wear tuxes, she was told.
“We said that we would accept their application, but we regrettably asked that they wear a tuxedo and a dress during the ceremony,” said Jun Abe, a spokeswoman at Milial Resort Hotels Co., a subsidiary of Tokyo Disney Resort operator Oriental Land Co. Ltd. that handles wedding plans. “But as we looked into the circumstances and confirmed the situation with the Walt Disney Company we conveyed to the couple that there was a misunderstanding,”
Same-sex marriages are not considered legal in Japan. Gay weddings at the Tokyo resort are purely ceremonial in nature, said Ms. Abe.
Ms. Masuhara and her partner were delighted. “We would’ve never imagined (Tokyo Disneyland) would completely change their minds 180 degrees in one week. We are very happy,” said Ms. Masuhara. Her partner relayed the good news again via her blog and Twitter.
Ms. Masuhara told JRT that the wardrobe win was a victory for the gay rights movement in Japan, which for the most part has crawled along with little progress. The last notable advance was in 2009, when the Justice Ministry said it would permit the issuing of documents that would allow Japanese nationals to marry foreign partners in countries where such marriages are legal.
The sluggish pace is partly due to a lack of societal awareness about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered — LGBT — people, said Ms. Masuhara. “Generally speaking, people don’t think about the possibility that at least one member of the LGBT community could be riding the train with them, in the same classroom as them, or be a colleague. The existence of LGBT people is just not thought about as a real concept.”
The story stops short of “happily-ever-after.” Ms. Higashi and Ms. Masuhara didn’t really intend to shell out the money for a Disney wedding. But the happy couple did make a pilgrimage to Tokyo Disneyland earlier this month to thank Mickey Mouse.