Cruise ship industry urged to leave Bermuda after equal marriage abolition

The cruise ship industry is facing pressure to relocate ships registered in Bermuda, after the territory abolished same-sex marriage.

Bermuda this year passed a law that replaces a ban on gay couples getting married, less than a year after they were allowed to marry for the first time.

The new law has caused chaos in the cruise ship industry, as a large number of ships are domiciled in the British overseas territory for financial reasons and are thus subject to its laws – meaning they can no longer carry out onboard same-sex weddings.

Carnival, a cruise ship conglomerate which operates 24 Bermuda-registered ships under subsidiaries Cunard, Princess and P&O Cruises, is now facing pressure to end the arrangement and move its registrations elsewhere.

Human rights lawyer Jamison Firestone, who is married to his same-sex partner, wrote in an open letter to Cunard: “Moving the ships is the only way possible to dissociate your company from a jurisdiction that has so dramatically flouted the values you profess to uphold, and to show support for your LGBTQ customers and those who support equal treatment for all.

“I therefore urge you to re-register your vessels in one of the many jurisdictions that do support the freedom to marry without discrimination.”

(Creative Commons photo/Gary Bembridge)

He added: “Bermuda’s new law applies to 24 ships that Cunard, Princess and P&O have registered in Bermuda. Same-sex couples may no longer marry on those ships and can only be offered the lesser status of domestic partnership.

“Carnival Corporation’s ships now contribute to and expand the reach of a regime that has chosen to discriminate against LGBTQ people.”

He added: “No legal or tax bonus gained in Bermuda can possibly be worth colluding with discrimination.

“Make no mistake, a cruise ship line that chooses to be flagged or remain flagged under a nation that has chosen to discriminate becomes complicit in discrimination. Can the ships of Cunard, Princess and P&O proudly fly the flag of Bermuda after this act?

“The right answer is for Carnival Corporation to stand by its values and protect the dignity and rights of all its customers by moving its ships from Bermuda to a jurisdiction that embraces marriage equality.”

Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell added: “Carnival is at risk of provoking a backlash by LGBT+ communities worldwide.

“Not only is Carnival colluding with a homophobic government by continuing to register its 24 ships in Bermuda, it means that same-sex couples can no longer marry on board, even in international waters. This is tantamount to direct anti-LGBT+ discrimination.”

In a response, a spokesperson for Cunard said: “Having been delighted and wholly supportive of the Bermuda Government’s change in law last May, which allowed us to conduct same sex marriages on board our ships we are disappointed with this more recent outcome.

“We will now be working closely with the Bermudan authorities to understand the legalities of ‘Domestic Partnership Act’ and whether we can offer our guests same sex marriages in the future.”

Cunard said it would not be providing refunds to guests who did not want to travel on a Bermuda-registered ship after the decision.

It told Mr Firestone: “We are unable to offer anyone a free of charge cancellation due solely to any personal opinion of the independent laws of Bermuda and must make you aware that a cancellation for this particular reason would not constitute a significant alteration to the package as booked.”

The company did say it would specifically provide refunds to couples who had booked wedding packages if they were unable to go ahead.

However, Bermuda last week confirmed the ban on same-sex weddings would only come into effect from May, allowing existing wedding bookings to go ahead.