How reversal on same-sex marriage could cffect Bermuda tourism

March 01, 2018
  • By Elaine Glusac
  • The New York Times

Less than a year after a Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage in Bermuda, the government of the British Overseas Territory has outlawed it, a reversal that is poised to roil the waters of the cruise industry and potentially threaten travel to the island. 

The country where a ship is registered influences how cruise lines conduct marriages at sea. Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group, said about 10 percent of its members’ ships were registered in Bermuda, accounting for about 13 percent of passenger capacity.  

Subsequent to the reversal, cruise ships registered in Bermuda that offered same-sex weddings have determined they can no longer do so.  

When same-sex marriage was legalized in Bermuda in May, Cunard, which registers its fleet in Bermuda, announced it would extend its wedding-at-sea packages to same-sex couples, with marriage licenses issued in Bermuda. Cunard held its first shipboard same-sex marriage in January.  

Given the repeal, another couple, who had planned to marry next fall on a ship, has decided to wed before sailing, according to a company spokeswoman.  

Of the 17 ships in its fleet, Princess Cruises has 13 ships registered in Bermuda and began offering same-sex weddings on them after the change in law last year.  

“Because Princess had not yet formally launched a same-sex wedding program, we had only a few couples with bookings,” Negin Kamali, a spokeswoman for Princess, said in an email.  

Two weddings previously approved by Bermuda will be allowed to proceed in March, but another two couples with shipboard marriage plans later in the year will be offered a refund if they wish to cancel.  

Catering to British travelers, P&O Cruises, which, like Princess and Cunard, is part of the Carnival Corp. group of cruise lines, began offering same-sex ceremonies at sea last spring. Most of its eight ships are registered in Bermuda.  

“What we know is that both the cruise industry and LGBTQ cruisers are eager to have the option to marry same-sex couples at sea; the reversal was a huge setback for both,” Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor of the website Cruise Critic, said in an email.  

There are alternatives for couples seeking to wed at sea. Celebrity Cruises, which registers most of its ships in Malta, where same-sex marriage was legalized last summer, held its first gay wedding in January.  

Beyond cruise ships, the marriage reversal risks tourism cancellations in Bermuda. It is coming off a record year in tourism, most likely aided by the America’s Cup yacht race held there in May and June. Tourism was up 7 percent over 2016.  

The tourism authority, which is an independent, nongovernmental agency, publicly lobbied against the ban. In December, it sent a letter to island senators, predicting tourism losses. It cited the case of the transgender bathroom bill, rescinded last year, that cost North Carolina an estimated $3.76 billion in business, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed in 2016 by then-Gov. Mike Pence in Indiana, which allowed business owners to deny services to patrons based on their sexual orientation. In its wake, Indianapolis lost 12 conventions representing up to $60 million in spending.  

The global value of LGBT travel is over $211 billion, according to Out Now, a marketing and consulting firm that specializes in the market.  

LGBT activists point to legislative victories since 2012 in Bermuda, such as an anti-discrimination measure that protects people on the basis of sexual orientation.  

“The change by their government wouldn’t cause our association to deter travelers from experiencing the beauty of Bermuda, nor the many countries globally that don’t have gay marriage,” said John Tanzella, president and chief executive officer of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, of which the Bermuda Tourism Authority is a member.