Disney's Theme Weddings Come True for Gay Couples

(By Phelan M. Ebenhack -- Associated Press)
By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 7, 2007

Same-sex weddings are coming out at Disneyland.

Walt Disney Co. said yesterday that gay couples can buy the company's high-end Fairy Tale Wedding package that allows them to exchange vows at Disney's theme parks and aboard its cruise ships, starting about $4,000 per wedding.

Same-sex couples have been allowed to use facilities on Disney grounds, such as banquet halls and conference rooms, for commitment ceremonies. But now, same-sex couples have access to the very public elements of the Fairy Tale Wedding plan, which includes a ceremony at one of the parks' marriage pavilions; Disney costumed characters at the reception; and a ride in a horse-drawn, glass-enclosed carriage through Disney property.

"This is the very logical extension of a business we are already in," said Leslie Goodman, senior vice president for communications for Disney Parks and Resorts, which operates Walt Disney World in Florida, Disneyland in Southern California and the company's cruise ships. Disney sells about 2,000 such packages each year, it said. Depending on the couples' desires, the cost of Fairy Tale Weddings can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Disney previously had limited the wedding package to couples with valid marriage licenses but changed its mind this week, following an inquiry from a gay guest in March, Disney Parks spokesman Donn Walker said. The guest was informed Tuesday that he could buy the Fairy Tale Wedding but has not yet asked to do so, Walker said. The policy also applies to Disney's overseas theme parks.

"We believe this change is consistent with Disney's longstanding policy of welcoming all guests in an inclusive environment," Walker said.

Gay marriage continues to be a politically heated issue. Last year, the Senate voted down a constitutional amendment, backed by President Bush and some conservative groups, to ban same-sex marriage. In 2004, the California Supreme Court ruled that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had overstepped his authority by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Same-sex marriages are not legal in California or Florida. The events for same-sex couples at Disney parks would be commitment ceremonies.

"I think for years, Disney has reflected the values of America," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which opposes same-sex unions. "Now, I think it could be argued they are trying to shape those values in a very radical way."

Recent years have brought the mainstreaming of gay culture, including 2005's Oscar-winning picture "Brokeback Mountain," featuring two gay cowboys; the hit television makeover show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"; and the February self-outing of former National Basketball Association player John Amaechi.

In a Quinnipiac University poll in November, 52 percent of respondents opposed a law that would allow gay marriage and 45 percent said they would favor it, up from 40 percent in a 2003 Quinnipiac survey.

Disney has offered partner benefits to employees since 1996. For the past several years, thousands of gay tourists have flocked to Walt Disney World, near Orlando, for an unofficial "gay day" in late spring. The event is not sponsored by the company, but neither is it discouraged. Gay guests in the park that day typically wear red T-shirts. The gay day event prompted an eight-year boycott of Disney by the Southern Baptist Convention, but that ended in 2005.

"When an iconic company like the Walt Disney Company recognizes the value of treating all customers fairly, gay or straight, it reaps the benefits," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. Disney has a perfect score on the campaign's corporate equality index.

In March, AfterElton.com, a news and commentary Web site focusing on issues related to gay and bisexual men, criticized Disney for not offering the Fairy Tale Weddings to same-sex couples.

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