Gay couple wed in groundbreaking same-sex marriage ceremony at sea

A gay couple have wed aboard a cruise ship in one of the first same-sex unions at sea.

Gay couple Francisco Vargas and Benjamin Gray tied the knot in a ceremony onboard the cruise ship Celebrity Equinox – in what is believed to be the first legal same-sex marriage onboard a major cruise ship.

The pair married on Monday afternoon, in an intimate ceremony officiated by Captain Dimitrios Manetas, as they were en route from Key West, Florida to Puerto Costa Maya, Mexico.

The grooms were joined by their immediate family for the ceremony.

They exchanged vows against a rose wall in the ship’s picturesque restaurant.

The couple spoke about their emotional moment.

Benjamin Gray said: “There are only so many firsts in life, and we are thrilled to be the first ever LGBTQ+ couple to marry at sea.

“We are humbled to follow the trailblazers in the LGBTQ+ community who paved the way for us.”

Vargas, who works for the brand’s travel partner Cruise Planners, said: “Traveling is in my blood – and when we heard Celebrity Cruises was celebrating equality and embracing our community, we wanted to be a part of it.

“We are grateful for the outpouring of support from our Cruise Planners family and hope our story brings strength for others in the LGBTQ+ community to confidently love whoever they choose.”

Despite a growing number of countries with same-sex marriage, until relatively recently it has not been possible for gay couples to get married onboard ships- as none of the countries with marriage equality permit legal weddings at sea.

Some major lines domiciled in Bermuda began taking bookings for ceremonies last year, after the country’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of equal marriage.

Those plans went awry when lawmakers in the country passed a bill imposing a fresh ban on same-sex weddings.

Meanwhile, the Celebrity Equinox is domiciled in Malta – where same-sex weddings became legal last year following a near-unanimous vote in the country’s Parliament.

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, said: “Words cannot express how proud I am to congratulate Francisco and Benjamin at this truly historic moment, both for them and for Celebrity.

“It’s a true privilege to know that the ceremony performed onboard Celebrity Equinox has made history as the first legal same-sex marriage at sea.

“Together we are paving the way for couples around the world to know that their love and commitment is to be celebrated equally, and that everyone is welcome on board a Celebrity cruise.”

Malta passed equal marriage last year, and 66 of the country’s 67 Members of Parliament voted in favour.

All except Edwin Vassallo.

Mr Vassallo, a member of the conservative Nationalist Party, ignored his own party’s whip to cast his vote against the legislation.

Explaining his vote, Mr Vassallo said he could not set aside his religious beliefs.

Speaking to the Malta Independent, he said he took exception to parts of the bill that modernise the country’s legal system, removing gendered terms like ‘husband and wife’.

He said: “[It] completely removes the concept of the nuclear family, mother, father, son and daughter. This was never promised in the election manifesto and it is why I voted against the bill after I had asked for a free vote, which was denied.”

He added: “I would be dishonest to myself and to the people I represent if I voted in favour. I believe that it is a fundamental human right to express what you believe in.

“I exercised that right against the will of the party and stood up to be counted.

He added: “It is a dishonest law that says one thing when its contents say something else. It is an exercise in deception that starts tampering with laws that effect with the right to life.”

The lawmaker claimed the law was laying the groundwork to legalise “surrogacy and sperm donation”.

He added: “I will never stop defending my beliefs. I will do it with prudence, as I was taught as a Christian to respect authority, but I want authority to also respect me.

“What is happening is an attack on fundamental human rights, not those of a Christian, but those of a person.”

Under Muscat’s leadership, the traditionally-conservative Catholic island nation becomes one of the most progressive in Europe for LGBT people.

Malta has outlawed ‘gay cure’ therapy and passed progressive reforms for transgender and intersex people.

The PM has urged other Commonwealth countries to follow Malta’s example and throw out their archaic Colonial-era anti-LGBT laws.

Speaking about the need for tolerance at a Commonwealth event, Mr Muscat said: “I want to single out the respect for LGBTIQ persons, the lack of it.

“The remarkable number of our countries [with anti-LGBT laws] is, arguably, a considerable blot on our family of nations’ standing.

“I had conversations and am aware that there are leaders who know that things must change, but are wary of how society will react to their first move.”