By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE referendum to amend the Constitution has been postponed yet again – this time to no later than the end of June 2014, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced to parliamentarians yesterday.
Initially, the electorate was expected to go to the polls this June, but Mr Christie announced in February that the original deadline would be reassigned as the Constitutional Commission requested an extension for the report because it was incomplete. The referendum was then set down for this November.
With that, Mr Christie outlined a schedule of deadlines, giving no specific dates, for which the referendum process was to unfold. The amending bills, he said, will be introduced in the House of Assembly before year’s end.
The passage of those Bills through both Parliament and the Senate is then expected to reach completion by the end of February 2014. An ample period for public education and discussion led by the Constitutional Commission will simultaneously take place, the Prime Minister promised.
The hope is, Mr Christie said, that the new changes will reflect complete equality between Bahamian men and women. A separate commission is to be appointed to deal with the issue of how children born in the Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents should be dealt with in terms of citizenship.
“It will be seen that six separate items would have to be enshrined in the amending bills to bring about gender equality under our Constitution,” he said.
“It should be noted that in all these cases a three quarters majority of the members of each House – first the House of Assembly and then the Senate – would be required to pass the amending bills. After that, assuming, of course, that the bills are carried in each House with the requisite majorities, the bills would have to be submitted to the electorate for approval by a simple majority vote in a constitutional referendum.”
When referendum day arrives next year, the government expects to present Bahamians with questions that address the following amendments:
• A Bahamian woman who is married to a non-Bahamian man will have the same constitutional rights of a Bahamian man to pass on citizenship to her child irrespective of whether the child is born abroad or in the Bahamas.
• A Bahamian woman having the same constitutional rights as a Bahamian man in obtaining citizenship for her foreign spouse, granted that changes be made to safeguard against marriages of convenience.
• A Bahamian man who fathers a child with a foreign woman outside of marriage should have the same constitutional rights that an unwed Bahamian woman has to pass on citizenship to that child subject to his proven paternity.
• The word “sex” should be added to the definition of “discriminatory” in Article 26 of the Constitution to make it unlawful to discriminate against any persons based on sex.
• A provision also will be added to make it clear that the amendment to Article 26 does not overturn the prohibition of same-sex marriages.
The government has further been instructed by the Constitutional Commission to stagger the recommended reforms over a period of years as the constitutional report contained 73 suggestions, 40 of which need formal constitutional amendments, Mr Christie said.
“In recommending this multi-phased approach to constitutional reform, the Commission has expressed a view that the process should begin with a ‘first round pick’ of issues of national priority that are likely to be supported by both sides of the political divide in Parliament,” he said.