This year, Bermuda became the first country in the world to enact marriage equality to repeal marriage equality, which it did less than eight months after the country’s Supreme Court stated a gay couple had the right to marry.
In May 2017, Judge Charles Etta-Simmons ruled Winston Godwin and fiancé Greg DeRoche had to be allowed to marry under Bermuda’s Human Rights Act. “On the facts, the applicants were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation when the Registrar refused to process their notice of intended marriage.”
By December, parliament passed The Domestic Partnerships Act of 2017, undoing that ruling and replacing same-sex marriage with civil unions. The measure was met by international outcry and calls for the British government to intercede in its overseas territory.
“This is a human rights issue,” said Shadow Economic Development Minister Grant Gibbons. “We are taking away marriage equality rights from the LGBTQ community.”
The government has delayed enacting the law for three months, reportedly to allow gay couples that procured marriage licenses to get married before the ban goes into effect. But the question remains: How should LGBT people and allies outside the country respond?
Homophobia and transphobia have long been issues on the island. The legacy of British colonialism and Christian missionaries—as well as the current involvement of evangelical groups from the U.S.—has meant persecution, discrimination and violence for LGBT Bermudans.
In June 2016, Bermudans voted two-to-one against marriage equality in a public referendum.
Since the passage of the Domestic Partnerships Act there have been calls for a boycott of Bermuda, which relies heavily on tourism for its economy. A hashtag, #BoycottBermuda, has appeared numerous times on Twitter. “Bermuda just banned marriage equality,” Ellen DeGeneres tweeted to her 77 million followers on Wednesday. “I guess I’m canceling my trip. Anybody else?”
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) March 7, 2018
There’s also calls for a boycott of cruise lines that operate out of Bermuda. Cunard, which operates the Queen Mary 2, is based in England but has registered its ships in Bermuda since 2002 to avoid paying corporate taxes.
Jamison Firestone, who canceled a Cunard trip with his husband over the repeal, is calling for LGBT travelers to avoid Cunard until it stops flying Bermuda’s flag and paying fees to the country.
“I simply do not feel comfortable taking a cruise on a ship registered in a jurisdiction that does not accept my marriage,” Firestone wrote in a letter to the company. “When I made the booking I thought, ‘It’s Cunard, the boat is named after a queen of England, it’s a quintessentially British experience.’ It is supposed to buy into British values or basic values of human rights… My romantic experience isn’t supposed to be sailing on some ship registered to a jurisdiction that has just decided that people like me shouldn’t be married.’”
He compares his stance to the Montgomery Bus Boycotts of the 1950s.
“People stopped paying for public transport because they didn’t want their money going to [segregation]. And I don’t want to pay for this,” he says. “What if they had banned interracial marriages? Would I stay on a ship from a country flying that flag? No.”
After the court ruling, Cunard planned to offer same-sex weddings on board its ships. Now the cruise line says it is “working closely with the Bermudan authorities to understand the legalities of the Domestic Partnership Act 2017 and whether we can offer our guests same-sex marriages in the future.”
Cunard is just one of nearly a dozen cruise lines owned by Carnival Corporation—other subsidiaries like Princess & P&O also have ships registered in Bermuda. “Every day Cunard and its sister cruise lines remain registered in Bermuda is a day you are taking a stand. The wrong stand,” says Firestone.
But with Bermuda so dependent on tourism dollars, some activists worry a boycott could lead to LGBT Bermudans being blamed for the country’s economic woes. “The demand for this boycott is not coming from grass-roots organizations in Bermuda, and in fact such a boycott stands to harm and not help LGBTQ Bermudians,” wrote Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, in a February 19 letter to The New York Times..
“It paves the way for LGBTQ Bermudians to become society’s scapegoat, to be blamed for any slide in foreign tourism and negative impact on the country’s economy. It risks increasing discrimination against a minority group whose rights have already been breached by the revocation of marriage equality.”
Stern says the media and international community should listen to LGBT Bermudans “and elevate their priorities, not set their own misguided agendas.”
There are no quick answers here: Stern’s concerns are legitimate, assuming a boycott even managed to make a noticeable dent in the economy. But contributing to a regime that denies your basic equality feels wrong, too.
Going to Bermuda—or choosing not to go to Bermuda—is a luxury many can’t afford. It’s certainly not a moral dilemma I’m facing right now. But if you are, remember Bermuda didn’t just suddenly spring out of the ocean last May. Millions of travelers, including LGBT travelers, were content to visit the island before the Supreme Court allowed for marriage equality. What exists now is a return to that status quo. (Actually a step up from that status quo, since gay couples can now register for civil unions.)
If it didn’t bother you in April 2017, should it bother you now? But if you traditionally spend your travel dollars in places that support LGBT equality, it’s probably not a good option.