TODAY, government is to debate the issue as to whether gender discrimination is to be eliminated from the constitution so that Bahamian women can have the same rights as Bahamian men, especially in their family life.
“The FNM’s position has always been,” said FNM leader Dr Hubert Minnis, “that we believe and support equality for men and women … we will continue to fight for equality.” However, some members of his party, although supporting equality for men and women, feel their leader jumped the gun as, at the time of his statement, they had not had an opportunity to discuss the matter. Some were concerned about the wording of at least two of the sections.
As for the government’s side, it has been made clear that there would be no referendum unless there was unanimous support for the amendments. This brought an indignant comment from Dr Sandra Dean-Patterson, Bahamas Crisis Centre Director, that equal rights for women should be unquestioned, especially as the government made a commitment more than 20 years ago to remove gender discrimination from the constitution. She found the comments of some Bahamians, including parliamentarians, “unbelievable” – especially as the equality principle was being hijacked by “red herring” arguments over same-sex marriage.
Although the debate on the matter opens in the House this morning, Labour Minister Shane Gibson displayed his level of concern by admitting that he is yet to read the four questions proposed for the November 6 referendum. So, unless he did his homework last night, he obviously has nothing, but hot air, to contribute to today’s debate. Of course, we can now get a true measure of Marco City MP Gregory Moss, who says he will only vote for one of the four bills. That bill would allow unwed Bahamian men to pass citizenship to their offspring if the child is born of a foreign mother. Although the main thrust of the amendments is to give equal rights to Bahamian women, Mr Moss has a problem with the way the other three questions are drafted.
The object of the first bill is to give Bahamian status to a child born abroad to a Bahamian mother and a non-Bahamian father. Under Common Law, the child would take the nationality of the foreign father with no rights to his mother’s homeland. There is even a question as to whether that child, offspring of a foreign father, would get automatic status if he/she were born in the Bahamas of a Bahamian mother.
The second bill would make it possible for a Bahamian woman to pass her citizenship on to her foreign-born husband, provided it is not a marriage of convenience.
The next bill would make it unconstitutional for any law or person in public office to discriminate against another person based on sex. This is the amendment that is causing the most concern. Many believe that it opens the door to same sex marriage. Article 26 of the Constitution, which lists reasons for which persons must not be discriminated against, will be amended. The proposal is that “sex” be added to the list for non-discrimination. This proposed inclusion has sent many Bahamians tearing their hair.
Mr Christie is aware of these concerns, but apparently has no intention of doing anything about them. He says lawyers have told the government it is doing “the right thing” as the language in the bill conforms with that of laws and constitutions of other countries. However, he forgets that those same laws in some of those countries do allow same sex marriage.
“The fact that people are very anxious about same sex marriages is a good thing in the Bahamas to be concerned about,” Mr Christie told The Tribune. “But we are very clear, absolutely very clear. In my communication I said it does not involve, does not contemplate and most certainly with me it won’t. So the constitutional changes there refers to the Matrimonial Causes Act and refers to the laws that exist in the Bahamas today. We do not propose to change the fact that a man marries a woman.”
That is fine for Mr Christie to say, but he must remember that he is not always going to be around to defend his position.
This intent should be stated clearly in simple English.
In 2002, when Mr Christie successfully led his party to defeat the FNM’s referendum that would have given equality to Bahamian women, he made the remark that former prime minister Hubert Ingraham could not get such a referendum through, but he could and would.
He was given that opportunity when he won the 2002 election, immediately after the defeat of the equality referendum. However, he made no attempt to even bring up the subject again during his next five years in government.
Now that he again has an opportunity, we expect him to deliver on his promise.
To satisfy those concerned about same sex marriage, all that has to be done is to state in simple English that for the sake of the Bills marriage is to be interpreted as a marriage between a man and a woman, and that nothing in the fourth amendment is to be interpreted as allowing same sex marriage.
Nothing has to be bundled in convoluted legalise — simple English will do.