Fun in the sun: But is Bermuda gay-friendly? *iStock photo
Fun in the sun: But is Bermuda gay-friendly? *iStock photo

Our political leaders promised to put the economy and jobs above all else to energize our road to recovery.  Let’s put that theory to the test.

Last week the US Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, allowing couples in same-sex marriages more than 1,000 federal rights and benefits.  Up until that point, gay couples were denied the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples. By all accounts, the high court decision will lead to a flood of new same-sex unions and a lot of happy honeymooners looking to celebrate a new life milestone.

In Bermuda we make money off happy honeymooners. It used to be a lot of money, before we lost our way. Perhaps the nine Justices of the Supreme Court just gave us an opportunity.  We should seize it. I’m worried, though, that we won’t.

In the United States, the gay economy is known as pink money. In 2012, that spend was estimated at $790 billion, according to Wikipedia. If that doesn’t wow you, listen to this: Experian Marketing Services reports the average household income of same-sex couples is higher than that of heterosexual couples. It gets better. Not only do same-sex couples earn more, they spend a higher percentage of what they earn than their heterosexual counterparts. This is the kind of hard data marketing experts dream about.

So not only does Bermuda stand to make money from same-sex honeymooners, but lovebirds celebrating anniversaries, too.  Local entrepreneurs might start businesses as pink as the Bermuda Tourism logo, perhaps create new jobs.  What a great opportunity!  We should seize it. Will we?

I doubt it because although the promise is economy first, our political leaders of all stripes reliably put cultural issues before economic ones. That’s the message I got during the House of Assembly debate not long ago on the Human Rights Act. I’ve lost count of how many elected officials staked out their opposition to sex-same marriage — the Premier and Opposition Leader chief among them.

But here’s the thing.  You don’t have to support marriage equality to take advantage of pink money. The only thing you have to care about is money. But we’ve missed this opportunity in the past and I fear we will miss it again.

In June 2011, the state of New York passed same-sex marriage legislation. Ever since, champagne bottles have been popping at gay weddings as if every weekend is New Year’s Eve at Times Square. Good thing for more people from New York visit Bermuda than any other state. What a great opportunity! We can aggressively market to same-sex couples from New York, motivated by their elevated incomes and propensity to spend.  But we haven’t. We’re missing our chance. And I think we’re about to miss another chance, a bigger one.

Huge market

There are 12 states in the US (plus DC) where same-sex marriage is legal.  More will come. Nine countries in Europe permit same-sex couples to marry. The United Kingdom will likely be next. Same sex marriage in Canada has been legal since 2005.

Almost all of Bermuda’s visitors come from the US, Canada and the UK. It seems to me the writing is on the wall. We are in the honeymoon business and there’s a whole market of honeymooners we haven’t even approached, all while we’re desperate to get the Tourism economy moving again.

Our political leaders promised to remain squarely focused on the economy, but on this issue it seems they’ve taken their eye off the ball, perhaps allowed a cultural position to distract from a political pledge. I would like to grab the whole lot by the shoulders and shake them until they see the opportunity I just explained. But in lieu of that luxury, I can repeat some impactful words that should resonate with any student of politics. Here goes: “It’s the economy, stupid.” 

Glenn Jones is Acting General Manager of MediaHouse, parent company of the Bermuda Sun.