By banning same-sex marriage, Bermuda is being the wrong kind of trailblazer, many travelers, companies, and human rights organizations would argue. We've seen how much similar discriminatory legislation has stung other destinations and left a bad impression.
Many destinations are beginning to market to LGBTQ travelers and promote same-sex weddings. But Bermuda, which initially legalized same-sex marriage last year, is going in the opposite direction and facing legal action over a new ban on same-sex marriages.
OUTBermuda, a non-profit that advocates for LGBTQ rights in Bermuda, filed a lawsuit this week against Bermuda’s attorney general to get the same-sex marriage ban repealed. Same-sex marriage remains legal as the ban isn’t expected to take effect until June. Existing same-sex marriages will remain valid. Voters earlier had expressed support for banning same-sex marriages.
Early signs of a chilling effect are showing. Bermuda became the first country in the world to repeal same-sex marriage earlier this year, and the government’s decision has drawn the backlash of many travelers and celebrities, some of whom are calling for a tourism boycott of the island.
Maryellen Jackson, an openly gay Bermuda resident and teacher, is a co-plaintiff in OUTBermuda’s lawsuit. In the lawsuit, Jackson and OUTBermuda claim the repeal of same-sex marriage violates Bermuda’s constitution.
Carnival Corporation said this week that it is supporting the lawsuit and opposes the ban.
Jackson said she joined the lawsuit last month and foresees negative consequences for tourism because of the ban. “I do think there will be some negative consequences that may not even be considered,” she said.
“We just don’t know how people will react,” said Jackson. “People are going to travel where they want to travel. I would think the LGBTQ community may think twice and choose to support human rights and not come to a place that doesn’t value all it’s people equally.”
Jackson said Bermuda’s Supreme Court will hear the case in May, with a ruling expected by June ahead of the ban taking effect. “I don’t think we’ll know the long-term impact this decision will have on this issue,” she said.
Bermuda Tourism Toes The Line
Bermuda Tourism Authority, the island’s tourism board, said that tourism arrivals were up 4.5 percent year-to-date through February, despite headlines about same-sex marriage repeal that circulated last year.
Tourism arrivals have also been on the rise for seven consecutive quarters since January 2016.
It’s too early to tell whether the ban will have a negative impact on tourism, said Kevin Dallas, CEO of Bermuda Tourism Authority. “Bermuda Tourism Authority, our industry partners, and many members of our community are committed to inclusiveness and to treating all visitors with respect,” said Dallas, in a statement. “We encourage all travelers to Bermuda, including LGBT visitors, to continue participating in this important exchange with us.”
The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, which works with destinations to promote LGBTQ tourism, said it opposes a Bermuda boycott. “We believe in working with destinations to provide education and create an ongoing dialogue that can lead to change in policies and sentiments, versus calling for boycotts that isolate local LGBTQ communities and close the door on the conversation,” said John Tanzella, the organization’s CEO, in a statement.
“The Bermuda Tourism Authority joined IGLTA last year, a positive step that shows there are those in the destination with a desire to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community,” said Tanzella. “We support our member businesses wherever they are in the world because they have committed to treating all people with respect even if the laws of their country are lagging behind.”
But there’s clearly a disconnect between local tourism officials and residents, who voted against same-sex marriage legalization in a November 2016 referendum. The referendum was only to gauge public opinion on the issue, as a later court case legalized same-sex marriages in Bermuda.
Dallas’ tone was also more cautionary in a December letter to the Bermuda Senate. “We have seen ample evidence of negative international headlines and growing social media hostility towards Bermuda that we feel compelled to express our concern about what the negative consequences could be for tourism if the Domestic Partnership Bill passes the Senate this week,” Dallas wrote. “We believe the Bill poses an unnecessary threat to the success of our tourism industry.”
Dallas also cited fallout from anti-gay discrimination laws in North Carolina and Indiana that caused tourism boycotts and large events and conventions to pull out. “We are convinced it will result in lost tourism business for Bermuda,” Dallas wrote. “LGBTQ travelers spend $165 billion worldwide per year and $65 billion of that is spent in the United States alone.”
Dallas fears other travel brands could join Carnival in taking a stance against the ban. “Our research indicates many companies, consumers, and travelers, including the overwhelming majority of the younger visitors powering Bermuda’s growth, care about this issue,” Dallas wrote. “It’s why the fallout in North Carolina and Indiana has proven so detrimental.”
Bermuda is the cover story on the most recent print issue of Travel + Leisure, but the story makes no mention of the ban.
Meetings and Events Impact
“We have over 130 people registered for the event thus far, and look forward to welcoming everyone to Bermuda for what will an impactful learning event, addressing high-level topics, including the weaponization of travel,” said Jack Johnson, the organization’s chief advocacy officer.
Carnival Corp. President Christine Duffy was scheduled to speak at the event, but she’s no longer speaking due to a scheduling conflict, the company said.
Johnson added that Destinations International opposes any travel boycotts. “Destinations International takes a strong stance, backed by research, opposing the use of travel boycotts and travel bans,” he said. “We believe they are ineffective, hurt the wrong people and are counterproductive. Our goal is to end them as an acceptable tool for seeking political change.”
Destinations International has addressed the ban and the organization’s stance with its member CEOs, said Johnson. “We have shared any concerns we’ve heard from our members with the Bermuda Tourism Authority and each one has been addressed individually,” he said. “We are expecting a very welcoming environment at the summit.”
“The law isn’t a subject that is being addressed specifically in any session during our CEO Summit, but it may come up in our advocacy session, which I’ll be leading,” said Johnson.
The American Geophysical Union, however, announced that it canceled its conference in Hamilton, Bermuda in September because “Bermuda no longer meets AGU’s meeting location requirements, and we are evaluating the options for relocating,” a statement from the organization said.
Carnival Taking up the Cause
In a statement on Tuesday, Carnival Corp. explained how it is supporting the legal action — and why its ships will still visit the country.
“We are sensitive as to why some travelers may consider avoiding Bermuda while this ban is in place,” the statement said. “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. 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.”
The cruise giant said in the statement that representatives from LGBTQ organizations have told the company that they are concerned about the law, but also about the potential ramifications of a slowdown in travel.
“At their urging, we believe it is best to align our actions with the LGBTQ community and others who live and work in Bermuda and depend on tourism for their living,” the statement said.
The company said six of its nine cruise lines would call on Bermuda this year for a total of 59 stops, representing less than 15 percent of the cruise traffic in Bermuda. Other brands will visit Bermuda a combined total of 282 times this year, according to Carnival.
A representative for the Cruise Lines International Association said no lines had stopped visiting Bermuda over the decision.
Carnival Corp. has a deeper connection to Bermuda’s marriage laws than just visiting the island. Ships that are registered in the country are allowed to conduct weddings at sea, and when marriage equality became the law in Bermuda last year, the cruise operator started offering packages for same-sex weddings. The parent company has 24 ships registered in Bermuda spread across Cunard, P&O, and Princess brands.
The reversal left the company “disheartened,” Carnival’s statement said.
In August, Cunard announced it had booked its first same-sex wedding at sea. Since May of last year, the brands have performed seven same-sex marriages: two on Princess, four on P&O, and one on Cunard, Chief Communications Officer Roger Frizzell said.
Carnival’s Bermuda-flagged ships that were previously allowed to perform same-sex wedding at sea have not been able to do so since February.
“We support marriage equality and we have been actively engaged in supporting efforts by OUTBermuda…to legally challenge the action to again allow same-sex marriages on the island,” Carnival said. That includes providing the organization with “financial, civic and public relations support, as well as involvement by our company.” Carnival said it was also filing an affidavit supporting this week’s legal action.
“We believe we can have the most significant impact through direct action,” the company said.
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Photo credit: Bermuda tourism is worried about the impact of a same-sex marriage reversal. Pictured are tourists at Horseshoe Bay Beach in Bermuda. Jeremy T. Hetzel / Flickr