There was much fanfare in August when Cunard announced it soon would host its first legally binding same-sex marriage at sea.
As the line touted in a press release, a recent Supreme Court ruling in Bermuda, where Cunard's ships are registered, suddenly had made such marriages possible.
But the window for legally binding same-sex marriages on Cunard ships — as well as most of the vessels operated by sister line Princess Cruises — appears to be closing almost as soon as it opened. A new Bermuda law signed on Wednesday reverses the Supreme Court ruling, banning same-sex marriages.
The new law, called the Domestic Partnership Act, appears to make it impossible for cruise ships registered in Bermuda to offer same-sex couples a legal marriage license as part of an on-board wedding ceremony held at sea. Cruise ships registered in Bermuda may still be able to host non-binding commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, and a binding civil union may also be possible. The new Bermuda law allows for a legal "domestic partnership" between same-sex couples but not a marriage.
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In a statement sent to USA TODAY, Cunard suggested it wasn't clear what would be allowed under the new law but expressed disappointment.
"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 outcome," the statement said. "We will now be working closely with the Bermudan authorities to understand the legalities of (the act) and whether this is something we can offer our guests in the future."
A spokeswoman for Princess early Sunday told USA TODAY the line had nothing to add to Cunard's statement. Both Princess and Cunard are owned by cruise giant Carnival Corp.
But Princess vice president for public relations Brian O'Connor, responding to additional questions from USA TODAY, later said the line had been cleared to go ahead with two same-sex marriages scheduled to take place on Princess ships in the coming weeks. A third same-sex marriage in the works for a later date is in doubt.
"Two will happen in March as planned, and the Registry General in Bermuda has confirmed that these will be allowed to proceed as legal marriages," O'Connor said in an email. "One remaining couple will be presented with options based on the repeal of the law, and if they choose to cancel we will refund them."
Thirteen of Princess's 17 ships are registered in Bermuda.
UK-based P&O Cruises, which also has ships registered in Bermuda, already has issued refunds to same-sex couples who had paid for a marriage ceremony on upcoming sailings, according to Verdict, a British news site. P&O Cruises also is owned by Carnival Corp. and caters primarily to British travelers.
“Couples who had booked ceremonies have of course been refunded," a spokesperson for P&O Cruises told Verdict. "We are very disappointed by this ruling.”
A spokesperson for Cunard did not respond to questions about the number of couples who have booked same-sex weddings at sea at the line or whether they would receive refunds.
In a statement on its website explaining the new law, the Government of Bermuda said the majority of Bermudians do not agree with same-sex marriage, citing a recent referendum.
“The Act is intended to strike a fair balance between two currently irreconcilable groups in Bermuda, by restating that marriage must be between a male and a female while at the same time recognizing and protecting the rights of same-sex couples,” the statement said.
The Bermuda government statement said same-sex couples already married before the new law took effect would continue to be recognized as married.
The new law doesn't bring same-sex marriages at sea to an end. Same-sex couples looking to legally marry at sea still can tie the knot on Celebrity Cruises vessels. Celebrity's ships are registered in Malta, which recently legalized same-sex marriages. Celebrity hosted a legally-binding same-sex wedding at sea for the first time in January.
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