Former Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson.
By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Attorney General has shot down assertions that the impending equality referendum is unnecessary.
Responding to claims that ordinary legislation is sufficient to address current inequities in this country’s guiding principles, Allyson Maynard Gibson, QC, said that legislation cannot offer the same guarantees that would be entrenched in constitutional provisions.
The Attorney General further urged citizens to be cautious about misinformation and legal distortions in the days leading up to the June 7 vote.
She said, in a press statement, that this is the time for sober and dispassionate reflection about what Bahamians want the Constitution to reflect regarding the ability of men and women to enjoy equal rights under the law.
This comes after former Court of Appeal President Dame Joan Sawyer stressed that the government could make the necessary changes proposed by the referendum without a public vote.
Dame Joan was also adamant that the Christie administration is using the upcoming gender equality vote as a “ruse” to implement lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in order to conform to international human rights policies.
“There has been a suggestion that the constitutional referendum is not necessary, and that ordinary legislation is sufficient to address current inequities in our country between men and women with respect to citizenship and the right not to be discriminated against. That suggestion is incorrect,” Mrs Maynard Gibson said.
“It is important to understand the facts and the law. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It takes precedence over any other law. The provisions which treat men and women differently with respect to citizenship rights and freedom from discrimination are entrenched provisions in our Constitution. They can only be changed by a constitutional referendum.
“Put another way, if we want our sons and daughters to be guaranteed equal rights under the law with respect to citizenship and the right not to be discriminated against, those rights must be written into the Constitution and entrenched at the highest levels. Ordinary legislation can be passed by Parliament, and it can also be changed, as it often is, by a simple majority in Parliament. Ordinary legislation cannot offer the same guarantees as entrenched constitutional provisions.”
She continued: “It is the nature of a Constitution to reflect and protect a nation’s most fundamental values. That is why our Constitution says that the state may never treat citizens differently because of the colour of their skin, or because of their religion, or their political views.
“The proposed amendments to the Constitution were drafted after an extraordinary period of consultation with legal and other experts. The lawyers who drafted them did so with great precision, and with the benefit of hindsight from the earlier process. They did so in a way that would ensure that men and women have equal rights under the law as citizens of the Bahamas. They also did so in a way that provides new constitutional protections for our law that says marriage must be between a man and a woman. Hundreds of information sessions have been held across the Bahamas so that Bahamians can see for themselves the text of the Constitution and the proposed changes.”
In a speech at a recent Bahamas Bar Association forum on the upcoming referendum, Dame Joan suggested that the government’s aggressive support for the “Yes” campaign is a push to ensure that all Bahamians are “in step” with LGBT rights as prescribed by the United Nations.
She insisted that the vitriol levelled at her in recent weeks because she does not support the referendum occurred because the government viewed her as a hindrance to their attempt to sway the public into a “yes” vote.
“The hidden agenda, I say, was deposited last October when the leader of this country said in a public statement published in The Guardian, that we as Bahamians need to get in step with the rest of the world with regard to the LGBT agenda,” she said.
It is unclear which statement Dame Joan was referring to, however, in March 2015 The Tribune reported that Prime Minister Perry Christie told College of the Bahamas students that leaders of conservative countries must consider how their nations could co-exist in a world where global attitudes towards social issues like homosexuality are shifting.
According to Dame Joan, the four referendum bills are being presented in a certain manner to dupe voters. She claimed that matters of citizenship that are contained in the first three bills are being masqueraded as the crux of the vote as a way to guide voters away from the intentions of bill four. This bill seeks to eliminate discrimination based on sex, which has been defined as being male or female.