Bermuda gay marriage ban: Open Letter to Carnival cruises

Cunard, Princess, P&O are colluding with homophobic discrimination

London, UK – 5 March 2018


Jamison Firestone, a human rights lawyer, has written an open letter to cruise ship operator Carnival Corporation, whose subsidiaries include Cunard, Prince and P&O cruise lines. He urges Carnival Corporation to no longer sail its ships under the flag and laws of Bermuda, in protest at the island’s decision to repeal marriage for same sex couples. His letter follows in full below.

The Peter Tatchell Foundation is backing Mr Firestone’s bid. Peter Tatchell, the PTF Director, warned that “Carnival is at risk of provoking a backlash by LGBT+ communities worldwide.”

Mr Tatchell said: “Not only is Carnival colluding with a homophobic government by continuing to register its twenty-four ships in Bermuda, it means that same-sex couples can no longer marry on board, even in international waters. This is tantamount to direct anti-LGBT+ discrimination.”


To the Management of Carnival Corporation, Cunard, Princess and P&O:

Jamison Firestone writes:

I respectfully request that Carnival Corporation move its cruise ships out of Bermuda in response to the recent vote stripping away the freedom to marry from same-sex couples. Moving the ships is the only way possible to dissociate your company from a jurisdiction that has so dramatically flouted the values you profess to uphold, and to show support for your LGBTQ customers and those who support equal treatment for all. I therefore urge you to re-register your vessels in one of the many jurisdictions that do support the freedom to marry without discrimination.

Bermuda’s recent repeal of marriage equality was a blow to LGBTQ people and an unprecedented step backwards. Bermuda’s legislature was the first in the world to override its own judiciary’s determination that marriage discrimination is unconstitutional. Bermuda’s new law applies to twenty-four ships that Cunard, Princess and P&O have registered in Bermuda.  Same-sex couples may no longer marry on those ships and can only be offered the lesser status of domestic partnership. Carnival Corporation’s ships now contribute to and expand the reach of a regime that has chosen to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

Carnival and its subsidiaries have been replying to queries regarding Bermuda’s decision and Carnival Corporation’s future plans with a reminder that its cruise lines are “proud to be strong supporters of the ‘LGBT’ community and host and/or sponsor many events.” However, support is not simply about corporate sponsorship of events. Real support consists of actively supporting the equal rights of LGBTQ people and refusing to accept the diminution of your passengers’ rights and dignity.

Flying Bermuda’s flag under these new circumstances would signal that Carnival acquiesces with discrimination and Bermuda’s shocking denial of equality and love. No legal or tax bonus gained in Bermuda can possibly be worth colluding with discrimination. Make no mistake, a cruise ship line that chooses to be flagged or remain flagged under a nation that has chosen to discriminate becomes complicit in discrimination. Can the ships of Cunard, Princess and P&O proudly fly the flag of Bermuda after this act?

I recently wrote to Cunard explaining “as a human rights lawyer and as a citizen of the United Kingdom recently married to a same sex partner, I simply do not feel comfortable taking a cruise on a ship registered in a jurisdiction that does not accept my marriage.” I therefore asked Cunard to stand with its professed values and drop the Bermuda flag of convenience for its entire fleet and refund my deposit and the deposits of all LGBTQ clients who may make this request.

I received a reply that implies Carnival Corporation’s cruise ship companies are staying in Bermuda and that Carnival Corporation is turning its back on marriage equality and LGBTQ rights. It said, in part:

“Having been delighted and wholly supportive of the Bermuda Government’s change in law last May, which allowed us to conduct same sex marriages on board our ships we are disappointed with this more recent outcome. I can assure you that we will now be working closely with the Bermudan authorities to understand the legalities of ‘Domestic Partnership Act 2017’ and whether we can offer our guests same sex marriages in the future.”

The issue is not whether Carnival Corporation was happy when Bermuda accepted marriage equality but the degree to which you are unhappy now that Bermuda has overturned its own judiciary in order to discriminate – and whether you are ready to show your customers that you live up to your own stated values.

Even if Bermuda were to allow non-Bermudian same-sex couples to marry on your ships, this would not cure the stigma and injustice; indeed, it would only highlight them. Leaving the ships registered in Bermuda after such a carve out would be agreeing to discriminate against Bermudians on your ships. The right answer is for Carnival Corporation to stand by its values and protect the dignity and rights of all its customers by moving its ships from Bermuda to a jurisdiction that embraces marriage equality.

I was also informed: “we are unable to offer anyone a free of charge cancellation due solely to any personal opinion of the independent laws of Bermuda and must make you aware that a cancellation for this particular reason would not constitute a significant alteration to the package as booked.”

At this point, I don’t want my money back. I want to sail on the Queen Mary 2 when she is flying the flag of a nation that does not discriminate. Does Carnival Corporation really feel comfortable asking people to pay to sail upon ships where discrimination has just been legalised?

I therefore respectfully request that Carnival Corporation consider its position. Remaining in Bermuda is not simply doing nothing; it’s the same as making a decision. This is not just about Bermuda; it is now about Carnival Corporation’s values, sincerity, and commitment. One would hope that your commitment to LGBTQ rights and marriage equality is real and that Carnival Corporation’s values now compel it to move its ships out of Bermuda and instead proudly fly the flag of one of the many jurisdictions that support marriage equality.

Thank you in advance for your deeper consideration of these issues.

Yours sincerely,

Jamison R. Firestone
Human Rights Lawyer, London, UK

P.S. I believe that the public will be interested in learning where Carnival Corporation really stands on marriage equality and LGBTQ rights. I am therefore sending copies of this letter to the organisations listed below and several others. I will forward your reply to them as well, so that they may inform the public of your considered response to the issues I have raised.

The Advocate
Curve Magazine
Daily Mail
Freedom to Marry
Gay City News
Gay Star News
Gay Times
Huffington Post
International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association
Los Angeles Times
New York Times
LGBTQ Nation
Passport Magazine
Pink News
Peter Tatchell Foundation
San Francisco Chronicle
Out Traveler
San Francisco Bay Times
Washington Post