By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
A LOCAL attorney said she is “eagerly” awaiting the government’s final wording on the “heavily debated” proposed gender equality constitutional referendum, as she stressed that the fourth Constitutional Amendment Bill could lead to gay marriage.
Halsbury Chambers associate Mikia Cooper argued that so far the government has “downplayed” public concerns made by legal and religious communities over the fourth bill, which aims to remove gender discrimination from Article 26 of the Constitution.
Ms Cooper explained that the simple insertion of the word “sex” into Article 26 could grant legitimacy to same-sex unions. She said the outcome of the decision on this bill would present legal challenges and have far-reaching social, political and economic implications for the Bahamas.
“The Bahamas over the past few years has signed on to certain conventions and treaties that in many respects, pave the way for expanded LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) rights in the country.
“The Bahamian government, through its recent push toward gender equality further opened that door via one of the four questions prepared for a proposed referendum.”
She noted that some political opponents of the bill have called for bill four to be disregarded in its entirety while others have conceded that adjusting the wording to include the words “at birth” could make a difference in ensuring that the Matrimonial Causes Act cannot be overturned by a legal challenge.
According to Ms Cooper, while homosexuality is not illegal in the Bahamas, restrictions dictate that only consenting adults “in private” are permitted to indulge in such activities.
“I have no affiliation with any side of this argument, my point is that the government must realise that either way there are legal aspects that have to be discussed and determined,” she said in a statement released yesterday.
“Gender equality must be brought to the forefront but we have to understand exactly what all the broad topic of gender equality covers.”
The proposed referendum has been delayed four times. It was first expected in June 2013, to coincide with the country’s 40th anniversary of independence. It was then expected in November 2013, but it was later said the vote would happen by the end of June 2014.
Last summer, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced it would take place on November 6, 2014, but that date was delayed until some time this year due to pushback from some members of parliament about some of the Constitutional Amendment Bills.
Earlier this year, Mr Christie said he did not want to delay the vote any further. He said he hoped to hold the referendum in June. Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney later told The Tribune he is doubtful a June date is possible.