The British monarchy is in an unfortunate bind in Bermuda – where the Queen’s assent might have to be given to a law banning same-sex marriage.
Same-sex weddings were allowed to begin in Bermuda earlier this year after a court ruling, but the political establishment in the country has conspired to stamp out the practise.
Both the House and Senate in the Bermudan Parliament have this month passed a bill that bans couples from marrying once again.
The Domestic Partnership Bill, which passed through Parliament by votes of 8-3 and 24-10, would abolish same-sex marriage, while extending a lesser form of civil partnership to gay people.
The law will also cause chaos for the cruise ship industry – as many ships are registered in Bermuda, and had already begun taking bookings for same-sex weddings under Bermudan law.
However, as Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory, the law must be given Royal Assent on behalf of the British monarch.
John Rankin, the Governor of Bermuda, is the unelected representative of the British monarch in the overseas territory and gives Royal Assent to laws on behalf of the Queen.
As the Domestic Partnership Bill heads to his desk, there are questions about whether the law will simply be rejected by the Governor.
In the UK, over the decades the Queen has been required to give royal assent to homophobic laws as well as progressive legislation, from Section 28 to the UK’s equal marriage bill. Her role, largely ceremonial, has always been carried out without comment.
But the current situation in Bermuda will play to fears of those close to the younger members of the monarchy, whose modernisation work may be undercut by the prospect of a 21st century anti-gay marriage law signed on behalf of the British Monarch.
But Rankin’s office would not be drawn on the possibility that he would refuse to give assent to the law.
A Government House spokeswoman said: “In considering this matter, the Governor will continue to act in accordance with his responsibilities under the Constitution.”
Kevin Dallas, CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA), has warned that the law could have crippling consequences for the territory’s tourism industry.
Luxury tourism is one of the main sources of income for Bermuda, alongside financial services for international firms.
Mr Dallas said: “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.
“We believe the Bill poses an unnecessary threat to the success of our tourism industry.”
The letter warns: “Same sex marriage is already the law of our island and to roll that back for what will be seen as a less equal
union will cause us serious reputational damage.
“We are convinced it will result in lost tourism business for Bermuda.
“While we cannot responsibly estimate what the scale of those losses will be, we can point to contemporary examples that tell a cautionary tale.”
The letter cites controversies in the US when Republican leaders in North Carolina and Indiana attempted to roll back LGBT rights, only to face boycotts from business.
The letter continued: “At the Bermuda Tourism Authority, we work hard to keep our research and commentary on this issue restricted to economics. That’s our lane.
“The consumer economics of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) travel are this: $165 billion spent worldwide per year, $65 billion of that is spent in the United States alone.
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“The Bermuda tourism economy, and the workers and businesses who make it thrive, deserve their fair share of the LGBT market as we all continue the uphill climb toward tourism resurgence.
“Significantly, it’s not only LGBT travellers that care about equal rights based on sexual orientation. Our research indicates many companies, consumers and travelers, including the overwhelming majority of the younger visitors powering Bermuda’s growth, care about this issue. It’s why the fallout in North Carolina and Indiana has proven so detrimental.
“While it’s not possible to project the precise ramifications of a yes vote for Bermuda, we are confident the impact will be negative. The ominous headlines since last Friday signal the hazards ahead.
“The yet-to-be-written headlines could be damaging enough to derail the seven consecutive quarters of growth the Bermuda tourism industry has enjoyed dating back to January 2016.
“Tourism workers are getting more hours on the job, visitors are spending more of their money on-island and entrepreneurs are flocking to the tourism economy because they sense a bright future of sustained growth. Let’s not jeopardise that growth.
We should send a message that Bermuda continually and permanently lives up to its well-earned reputation as a warm, friendly and welcoming destination.”
Rod Attride-Stirling, a lawyer who worked on the same-sex marriage passage, also spoke against the Domestic Partnership Act.
“There is lawful same-sex marriage in Bermuda and there have been several marriages now, so the Government is taking away a right that exists. If the Supreme Court had not already ruled on this, then the position would be very different,” he said.
“The fact that no country in the world has ever done this should give us pause. We will look foolish and oppressive, at a time when we can ill-afford this, in the light of everything going on and the spotlight shining on us for other reasons.”