Bermuda’s Supreme Court overturned the island’s short-lived ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, paving the way for those marriages to resume in Bermuda and on Bermuda-registered cruise ships.

The ruling is a win for OUTBermuda, a non-profit that advocates for LGBTQ rights in Bermuda, which filed a lawsuit against Bermuda’s Attorney General. Maryellen Jackson, an openly gay Bermuda resident and teacher, was also a co-plaintiff in the case.

Bermuda’s path to its historic ruling was complicated, to say the least. In 2016, voters rejected referendum questions that asked whether same-sex marriage should be legalized, although less than 50 percent of the voting population turned out to vote. A Supreme Court case last year legalized same-sex marriages, but island politicians later introduced the Domestic Partnership Act in parliament which would ban same-sex marriage. The act was signed in February and took effect on June 1, but the court’s ruling on Wednesday quickly nullified it.

OUTBermuda praised the court’s decision as one that will be on the right side of history but realizes there is still work to be done in Bermuda to help the community understand each other better.

“There is support for the LGBTQ community, but I’m not sure if people fully understand the differences,” said Adrian Hartnett-Beasley, director and deputy chairperson for OUTBermuda. “Getting folks to say in their own words why this matters to them, I think that has a value from an informing perspective.”

Same-sex marriage remains a controversial topic for many in Bermuda. “Some people are absolutely against it but some folks don’t realize that switching it out is not what support and equality look like,” said Zakiya Lord, an OUTBermuda board member and regional development and engagement officer at Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.
“Many people didn’t come out for our original referendum and didn’t weigh in, so it should really be discounted.”

Many LGBTQ travelers frequent Bermuda and the Domestic Partnership Act came at a time when the much of the world seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Some 26 countries have legalized same-sex marriage and two countries, Ireland and Australia, became the first two countries to legalize such marriages by popular vote in the past three years.

California also repealed same-sex marriage legalization in 2008, but it’s difficult to compare California and Bermuda given the extent that much of the world has evolved on the topic in the past decade.

The ruling is significant in that it underscores how a same-sex marriage ban is no longer acceptable to many travelers – LGBTQ or straight – and the potential consequences for tourism of rolling back progress.

It’s unclear what kind of impact news of the Domestic Partnership Act has had on Bermuda tourism, but Wednesday’s news will surely help mend some misperceptions of whether LGBTQ travelers are welcome.

The Bermuda Tourism Authority, the island’s tourism board, said that leisure travel air arrivals were up 21 percent year-over-year for April and year-to-date. The organization, led by CEO Kevin Dallas, an openly-gay Bermudian, said before Wednesday’s ruling that LGBTQ travelers were still welcome in Bermuda and that the island supported the LGBTQ community.

The tourism board was put in a difficult position with the local government and global travel industry, and other tourism boards and organizations have faced similar challenges in the past. Still, the organization’s consumer website has little LGBTQ specific content apart from an FAQ section on the Domestic Partnership Act.

Travel Industry Reacts

Carnival Corp stood to lose at least $20,000 this year from 10 same-sex marriages that had been booked on Bermuda-registered ships if the court hadn’t ruled against the Domestic Partnership Act, according to Roger Frizzell, a spokesperson for Carnival, who filed an affidavit in the case.

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, the company said.

“All of us at Carnival Corporation applaud the leadership of OUTBermuda and Bermuda’s LGBTQ families for successfully making their case before the Supreme Court of Bermuda to restore the right to marry for all,” the company said in a statement.

“As a company committed to equality, inclusion, and diversity, we believe everyone deserves equal dignity and respect, and we are proud to have provided our support to OUTBermuda’s efforts to champion equality under the law,” the statement said.

The company has 24 ships registered in Bermuda spread across Cunard, P&O, and Princess brands, and those ships wouldn’t have been able to perform same-sex marriages on board if the Domestic Partnership Act had continued.

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.

Some hotels in Bermuda are less sure of the impact of the voided law. The Reefs resort in Bermuda is noted on many LGBTQ travel websites as being LGBTQ-friendly and isn’t sure how much the news impacted its business in recent months.

“Despite a few cancellations in the immediate days after the announcement of the act, people often won’t tell us why they cancel or why they may not book, said David Dodwell, the resort’s general manager. “So it is challenging to determine the level of impact the act has had without more direct data.”

The Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, a Fairmont property, is also noted as being LGBTQ-friendly on many websites for the community but said it doesn’t know how many LGBTQ guests have stayed at the property because of privacy laws.

“We invite everyone, regardless of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, to stay with us,” said Tim Morrison, the property’s general manager. “This has not and will not change no matter what the decision is to the Domestic Partnership Act.”

The Fairmont brand has participated in many LGBTQ pride events in recent years and offered wedding and vacation packages at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Other hotels like Marriott and Hilton and airlines such as JetBlue, Delta, and Alaska have long-supported LGBTQ travelers and rights.

Photo Credit: Bermuda's LGTBQ community is celebrating a historic win for marriage equality. Pictured are tourists on Horseshoe Bay Beach in Bermuda. Andrew Currie / Flickr