Can This Cruise Line Torpedo Bermuda’s Gay Marriage Ban?

Carnival Cruise Line is hoping to help Bermuda become the first country in the world to re-legalize same-sex marriage.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

In February, Bermuda became the first country in the world to re-ban same-sex marriage after previously legalizing it.

Now, Carnival Cruise Line is hoping to help it become the first country in the world to re-legalize same-sex marriage.

But how much pressure will it take for a socially conservative island like Bermuda to buckle?

As CNBC reported Tuesday, Carnival Corp. announced that it will be providing “financial, civic, and public relations support” to LGBT rights charity OutBermuda as challenge the recent overturning of marriage equality, which cleared the Bermuda legislature in December and was signed by Governor John Rankin in February.

At stake for the cruise giant, as CNBC noted, is the fact that subsidiaries Cunard and P&O Cruises will not be able to host same-sex marriages on board their vessels anywhere on the planet because the businesses themselves are registered in Bermuda.

“While we always abide by the laws of the countries we sail to and from, we believe travel and tourism brings people and cultures together in powerful ways,” Carnival said in a press statement. “As a result, we believe it is important to stand by the LGBTQ community in Bermuda and its many allies to oppose any actions that restrict travel and tourism.”

Carnival wading into the matter is one of the first major signs of potential backlash the British overseas territory could face as a result of the same-sex marriage repeal.

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and a handful of other celebrities have called for boycotts of the popular vacation destination—and the Bermuda Tourism Authority, which did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment, has previously warned that the repeal would “result in lost tourism for Bermuda”—but those potential impacts have not yet come into focus in any quantifiable way.

In a statement, OutBermuda told The Daily Beast, “In this brief window, we have not yet seen relevant economic data, apart from news reports and anecdotal evidence.”

One anecdotal sign that Bermuda may fear the economic impact of the legislation is the fact that, in early March, the territory’s Minister of Home Affairs delayed the effective date of the marriage ban to June to allow for same-sex marriages to occur on both the island and on cruise ships registered in Bermuda, as the Royal Gazette reported.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the LGBT advocacy group GLAAD, interpreted the move in a statement as a “small walk-back” that “shows that pressure from the tourism industry could have tremendous power if they collectively speak out for marriage equality.”

At this early point, however, that power cannot be measured.

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The Bermuda Tourism Authority’s publicly-available tourism data for March 2018–the first full month after Gov. Rankin signed the ban—has yet to be published.  

Data on the number of total leisure visitors for January and February shows a slower start to the year compared to 2016 and 2017, but given that the same-sex marriage repeal was only signed on February 8–and that February saw a year-over-year increase in total visitors—that fact is likely reflective of broader industry trends.

OutBermuda doesn’t want to wait for the economic consequences of the same-sex marriage ban to arrive before getting the legislation overturned.

As the Royal Gazette reported Tuesday, the LGBT rights charity is already in the process of preparing a legal challenge against the legislation, which effectively consigns same-sex couples to domestic partnerships with benefits rather than allowing them to get legally married.

OutBermuda will be seeking an order from the Supreme Court—the same Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage in May 2017 after a gay couple petitioned for the right to wed. If the effort proves successful, Bermuda will have legalized same-sex marriage, repealed it, and re-legalized it all within the span of a few years.

We hope to help OutBermuda in its efforts to overturn the law to once again permit same-sex marriages in Bermuda

“While marriage equality is just one issue facing the LGBTQ+ community, OutBermuda believes it is well-positioned to provide a legal voice on a topic that has recently been handled like a political football in Bermuda,” the charity said in a statement.

Carnival, as CNBC reported, will also file an affidavit to support OutBermuda and be involved in the challenge. A spokesperson for Carnival confirmed to The Daily Beast that they are indeed looking to see the ban repealed: “Yes, we hope to help OutBermuda in its efforts to overturn the law to once again permit same-sex marriages in Bermuda.”

This level of involvement in LGBT-related affairs is not unusual for the cruise company.

As the Human Rights Campaign noted in 2015, Carnival joined a coalition of Florida employers to advocate for anti-discrimination legislation in the Sunshine State.

Carnival, like competitor Royal Caribbean, scored a perfect 100 on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, which requires not just internal support for LGBT employees but external support for the broader LGBT community.

Indeed, as CNBC previously reported, the overall LGBT-friendliness of the cruise and travel industry, could spell trouble for Bermuda in the months to come.

The legalization of same-sex marriage was a step forward for a territory that didn’t hold the highest level of appeal for traveling same-sex couples—Lonely Planet, for example, warns that although “gay travelers are unlikely to experience overt discrimination” in Bermuda, “open displays of affection are very much frowned upon—and the rapid rescinding of marriage equality seems unlikely to help that impression.

Time will tell if lost LGBT tourism dollars make enough of a splash to return same-sex marriage to the island—but, for now, Carnival’s involvement signals a possible wave of support for the effort.

OutBermuda told The Daily Beast they expect more corporations to show support for the challenge “in the weeks ahead.”