The Premier of Bermuda has said gay people are welcome on the island after a cruise for gay families cancelled plans to visit later this year.

The cruise, hosted by lesbian comedian Rosie O’Donnell, was the focus of faith-based protests when it visited the Bahamas in 2004.

Bermudan church groups had promised action against the visiting gay families.

“Bermuda is a democracy that welcomes all people of all races, colours, creeds, and sexual orientation,” Premier Ewart Brown said in a statement.

“While the government of Bermuda has done everything we can to welcome the Rosie O’Donnell-hosted cruise, we understand and respect their decision, however saddened we are by it.

“We stress to the international community the Bermudian government’s position of inclusion and acceptance of all who wish to visit our beautiful and friendly country.”

The ship was scheduled to stop at the island after departing from New York on July 7th.

Rosie O’Donnell has been arranging cruises for gay and lesbian families since 2004 and her success was documented in 2006 in the HBO show All Abroad Rosie’s Family Cruise.

The company that organises the events supported the Premier’s comments and said he had phoned them personally about their decision to cancel.

“We know it is a small group of churches that do not welcome us. R Family Vacations has no issue with Bermuda. Anyone who asks me if Bermuda is gay-friendly I will respond ‘yes,’” Gregg Kaminsky, CEO, told The Royal Gazette.

“I have received many emails and phone calls from people, including the Premier, letting us know that we are welcome and it is much appreciated.

“However, we are concerned with some of the churches’ comments and we did not want our guests to experience a similar situation that occurred in Nassau in 2004.”

Andre Curtis of United By Faith had previously summed up the combative mood of some church groups on the island:

“We may just choose to pick them (the cruise passengers) up by bus and bus them to our church, to different denominations, and have the pastors pray for them,” he said, according to The Royal Gazette.

It has emerged that a New York-based travel company will be visiting Bermuda next month with a group of around 30 gay men on board Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas.

“We’ve escorted many gay groups to Bermuda on cruises before and have not had any problems. We’ve always found the Bermudian people to be very friendly,” Derek Bergl of Pied Piper told the Bermuda Sun.

International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association executive director John Tanzella told the Sun:

“Bermuda is a very lovely island with wonderful people, but it does have the reputation for being anti-gay and hence gay travellers avoid spending their vacation money there.

“IGLTA has no member hotel properties or businesses on the island and that is certainly visible on our website for gay travellers.”

Bermuda is one of fourteen British Overseas Territories which are under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, but not considered part of the UK itself.