Tribune Features Editor
Five little words, with six letters or less, are at the root of a controversial amendment to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act. The words "who is not a spouse", included in the legal definition of rape, caused the firestorm in 2009 when the government attempted to remove them. That fire is still blazing today.
Thanks to the surprising views of Democratic National Alliance (DNA) leader Branville McCartney, who said he does not support any change to the legal definition of rape, the issue is up for discussion once again.
The DNA hastily convened a "focus group" yesterday on marital rape legislation, to push back against negative criticisms over comments made by Mr McCartney a week ago on the Citizen's Review television programme.
What was the outcome of the focus group? The DNA iterated its support of women's rights, by claiming the view that rape in marriage should be a criminal offence, but it should not be called rape. It believes existing laws, namely Section 15 of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, already protect married women, although they need to be strengthened.
These laws already govern sexual assault in marriage, and therefore there needs to be no fundamental change to the definition of rape.
The focus group was poorly supported by women's rights activists and religious leaders. Even still, the DNA was able to come up with its official position, largely thanks to the legal perspective of Mount Moriah candidate Wayne Munroe. This is their story and they are sticking to it.
"(Section 15) ought to be amended to include the protection orders as given by the domestic violence act; it ought to add living separately and it ought to also include the use of violence. We believe that the Act and the Section 15 if amended properly, can get the desired results and more prosecutions of persons. That is the DNA's position and that is the position we will take once we become the government", said Mr McCartney.
The DNA's proposal, while it seems credible and helpful, sidesteps the five little words that are at the center of the firestorm. Why? Because confronting religious views that rob women of their human rights is too hard a task. The DNA essentially sees no route to unite the country around the spousal rape amendment, so it has acquiesced, no different, in my view, than what the FNM did in its retreat.
Mr McCartney is standing by his view that forced sex inside marriage is not rape. And he has no regrets about saying what he said.
The party refused to provide a direct answer about its opposition to the amendment that would change the definition of rape by removing the exclusion of spouses. The DNA believes that is a feel good exercise and it will not truly help women. It wants the public to rally behind its better idea for the protection of women.
Fair enough, but sadly that is not good enough for me, because it grants legal authority to a Christian interpretation that I believe is unconscionable to have grounded in law. It leaves unhinged the fundamental view that a married woman is no longer her own person.
The institution of marriage, while sacred, is not lawless. That a man and a woman become one in marriage, based on the Christian understanding, has never stopped spouses in all the ages, from abusing their vows, or the fundamental rights of their partners. This is why governments, charged with the responsibility of citizen security, enact laws to protect all citizens. It is reasonable to hope those laws would not discriminate against married women.
If Christians would spend more time upholding Christian principles and marital vows and less time living in sin, then maybe there would be no need for laws that protect the wayward ways of mortal man. Sadly, such is not the ways of Man. We are beautiful divine beings while at the same time we are wretched outlaws empowered with freedom of choice.
I appreciate the DNA's willingness to confront the issue and open up the debate, but by its own invitation, the DNA has asked the public to hold its leaders to a higher standard.
The silence of the Free National Movement and the Progressive Liberal Party has not gone unnoticed. Sadly, I doubt anything will change. The PLP has mastered the art of duck dodge and will no doubt stay out of the fray.
Last week I questioned Melanie Griffin, shadow minister of social services, on her personal view and that of her party. She said "the PLP never got an opportunity to put its position forward at the time".
In other words, the PLP was able to duck out on taking a position. When the governing party withdrew the proposed amendment after tabling it in the House of Assembly, the PLP was let off the hook.
She claimed her uncompromising record on women's empowerment was well documented, referencing the Domestic Violence Protection Orders which was passed under the PLP. And yet she could not articulate a definitive position in support of women's rights on the spousal rape issue. Sorry to say, her record does not excuse her silence. Ms Griffin believes "it is a discussion that has to be had".
The FNM on the other hand has another problem. They are embracing this 'papa knows best' mentality, not just as an election strategy, but as a fundamental view of themselves. It concerns me for one, because this patriarchal view projected on the nation, stands at odds with how I view leadership.
By elevating party leader Hubert Ingraham in this way, party members are simply emasculating themselves, and placing Mr Ingraham further out of reach from accountability and the obligations of service. Mr Ingraham did not earn the nickname 'Hugh Biggety' for nothing: It reflects his authoritative, dictatorial even imperial leadership style. That often works for decision making purposes, but it has inherit risks.
Combined with the 'papa knows best' mentality, Mr Ingraham's ego is so overinflated he answers only to his own calculations. This can be seen in his refusal to agree to a public debate. The public will likely hear not a peep from Mr Ingraham on the spousal rape issue unless by his own calculations it serves his self interest.
So where does that leave women? At the mercy of men.