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 comprised most of the industry’s cruise lines, said that about 10 percent of its members’ ships are 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 last 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 the 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,” wrote Negin Kamali, a spokeswoman for Princess, 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 Corporation 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 L.G.B.T.Q. cruisers are eager to have the option to marry same-sex couples at sea. The reversal was a huge setback for both,” wrote Colleen McDaniel, the senior executive editor of Cruise Critic, a website dedicated to cruising, 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 on the island.
Bermuda is coming off a record year in tourism, likely boosted by the America’s Cup yacht race, which took place there last May and June. According to figures recently released by the Bermuda Tourism Authority, some 692,947 visitors traveled to the island, the largest in recorded history dating to 1995. 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 in the wake of same-sex marriage restriction. 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-governor 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.
“Significantly, it’s not only L.G.B.T. travelers that care about equal rights based on sexual orientation. Our research indicates many companies, consumers and travelers, including the overwhelming majority of the younger visitors powering Bermuda’s growth, care about this issue,” said the letter, signed by Kevin Dallas, the chief executive officer of the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
The global value of L.G.B.T. travel is over $211 billion, according to Out Now, a marketing and consulting firm that specializes in the L.G.B.T. market.
Jack S. Ezon, the president of Ovation Vacations, a travel agency based in New York, said that the prime season for travel bookings to Bermuda, which is seen as a last-minute getaway, is May. But already nearly 5 percent of the firm’s reservations to the island have been canceled not just by L.G.B.T.Q. couples but friends who “feel they do not want to support an economy that is, in one person’s words, ‘backward,’” Mr. Ezon wrote in an email.
L.G.B.T.Q. activists point to legislative wins since 2012 in Bermuda, including an anti-discrimination measure that protects people on the basis of sexual orientation and the opening of adoption to same-sex couples.
“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, the president and chief executive officer of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, of which the Bermuda Tourism Authority is a member. “Bermuda does have protection laws that include sexual orientation.”
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