Gay couples who had booked marriage ceremonies onboard P&O cruise ships have been told their weddings cannot legally go ahead.
The company had announced earlier this year that it had begun taking bookings for legal same-sex weddings at sea, with ceremonies set to begin in January 2018.
As the company’s fleet is primarily registered in Bermuda, the on-ship marriages were to take place under Bermudan law.
However, Bermuda’s Parliament voted to reintroduce a ban on same-sex weddings this month after lobbying from anti-LGBT campaigners – leaving P&O with no option but to cancel the wedding bookings.
The company confirmed to PinkNews today that any already-booked same-sex weddings will no longer be able to happen.
Couples who have already made bookings will instead be offered a legally-unrecognised commitment ceremony.
A P&O spokesperson told PinkNews: “We were delighted by this decision as we have wanted to offer same sex ceremonies for many years.
“However, we have now been made aware by Bermudian Registrar General that the Government of Bermuda has entered into a process to change this recent law on same sex marriage.”
The statement added: “Although we are awaiting further information from Bermuda, it is unfortunately likely to be the case that Bermudian law will not permit a same sex wedding ceremony on board our ships after January 2018.
“We are very unhappy about this decision and we do not underestimate the disappointment this will cause those guests who have planned their weddings.
“We would still love to welcome them on board though as planned.
“Whilst we are unable to hold the legal ceremony we can still offer a Commitment Ceremony to celebrate their partnership or a renewal of vows ceremony, both of which will be officiated by the captain or a senior officer.”
One gay couple told PinkNews that they had been thinking of a cruise ship wedding – and were “saddened and disappointed” by the decision.
The law banning same-sex marriage is still waiting to be given formal assent by Bermuda’s Governor.
As Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory, the unelected Governor is technically a representative of the British Monarch.
He will have to decide, likely in consultation with officials from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whether to give approval to the law.
Both the House and Senate in the Bermudan Parliament passed the 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.
As the Domestic Partnership Bill heads to his desk, there are questions about whether the law will simply be rejected by the Governor.
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.”