On Sunday, 1,100 gay passengers of the cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam of the Holland America Line were denied landing rights in Casablanca after local authorities became aware of their sexual orientation. Morocco, like other Muslim countries, legally discriminates against public displays of homosexuality. Persons caught engaging in prohibited acts can be punished by between six months and three years in prison.
The voyage of the Nieuw Amsterdam, organized by the American RSVP Vacations travel agency, was to be the first openly gay cruise to a Muslim country. The tourists had been planning to visit the great Hassan II mosque and several markets in the city, with an option to go on a jaunt to Marrakech as well. The ship made for the southern Spanish city of Malaga instead. The refusal to allow the cruise ship to make land has been generating headlines throughout Spain and headaches for the Moroccan government, which prides itself on a moderate, pro-Western outlook. The tourism minister later denied the ship had been turned away and said the tourists were welcome in his country. "We don’t ban cruise ships here,” he said, “and we never ask our visitors about their sexual preferences." While it’s too late for the passengers, the controversy may spark a renewed debate on homosexuality in Morocco and perhaps pave the way for future gay cruises.
Traveling while gay is still a risky business in much of the world. Last March, two gay Californian cruise passengers were arrested by police on the Antillean island of Dominica, charged with “indecent acts” after they and other passengers were seen involved in sexual activity. According to one local witness, “It’s wrong, it’s dirty, they can’t do that so publicly. They need to respect us and our land.”
But this isn’t just a problem for the so-called developing world. Also last March, the fundamentalist Christian operators of a hotel in England denied a room to a male gay couple on the grounds that granting them a double bed would be tantamount to “promoting sin.” The judges in the case determined that, although the objection was valid per se, the couple’s registered partnership rendered it moot.
In the meantime, thousands of people demonstrated in Gay Pride events in Paris demanding the legalization of full gay marriage in France. Before his recent election, President Francois Hollande promised to introduce corresponding measures within a few months of taking office. French officials anticipate that the first same-sex marriage ceremonies can be performed in early 2013.
In Bulgaria and Rumania as well, several hundred demonstrators went on the street demanding the introduction of same-sex marriage and an end to legal discrimination against LGBT people. In Sofia, right-wing counter-demonstrators accused the United States of trying to transform Bulgaria into a “gay tourism region” and of “introducing pedophilia.” Clergy from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church were on hand to shout rude comments at the gay demonstrators and at least one priest called for them to be stoned to death.
In Spain, 700,000 persons marched through the streets of Madrid demanding that gay marriage, approved by the socialist government in 2005 and on the conservative hit-list ever since, be maintained. In Hungary, right-wing parties, who are currently in the ascendant in that reactionary nation, have publicly called for “an open season” on LGBT demonstrators at next weekend’s "Rainbow Parade" in Budapest. The parade rarely goes by without bloodshed, and it is currently unclear just how useful the police will be in protecting the participants this time around.
Despite the barriers placed in the way of openly gay travelers, LGBT tourism appears to be a growth industry, particularly as acceptance of same-sex partnerships surges across more and more of the planet. Smart investors will be betting their money on gay-friendly hotels and cruise lines – even in Morocco and on Dominica. As for Budapest and Sofia... Well, don't forget to pack a first-aid kit...