By ADRIAN GIBSON
THE STINK of rank hypocrisy engulfs the upcoming constitutional referendum.
Whilst the anti-discrimination principles being espoused by the Bills are noble, many Bahamians fear that they would, by voting yes, sanction an untrustworthy government to yet again engage in political sleight of hand.
Though sweet hearting is a secret, undercover pastime of Bahamian society, we are socially conservative. Bahamians would gamble and then turn around and vote no to the legalisation of gambling.
As my father told me some time ago, he felt that some Bahamians feel that they took the moral position to vote no because they felt that gambling is “generally wrong but though they do it, that they would soon repent, stop and ask forgiveness and therefore wouldn’t want to do so long-term”.
We are socially conservative but hypocritical with it. That is the reality of life in Bahamian society. Given that Bahamians are distrusting of this government and seemingly believe that the passage of the Bills would lead to same-sex marriage and society being overrun by foreign nationals — arguments advanced by the No campaign — the Bills are in jeopardy of failing. Again, that failure would in part be due to our fears, social conservatism and hypocrisy!
A constitutional referendum was promised by Prime Minister Perry Christie upon taking office.
Mr Christie initially announced that the constitutional bills would be brought to Parliament before the end of 2013 and passed by February, 2014. At that time, he said the referendum would be held by June 2014. The referendum was initially expected in June 2013, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Independence. The referendum was again delayed to November 2013 and then it was set to take place on November 6, 2014, only to yet again be cancelled. PM Christie then said that he hoped the vote would happen before the end of June 2015. That too didn’t happen. And so, here we are with the vote finally scheduled to take place on June 7, 2016.
The four Bills, according to Mr Christie, represented the first round of constitutional reform. He asserted that the Bills are bound by a common thread — the need to institute full equality between men and women in matters of citizenship and, more broadly, to eliminate discrimination in the Bahamas based on sex.
The first bill proposed would enable a child born outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian woman to have automatic Bahamian citizenship at birth. Presently, only those born in another country to a Bahamian father are able to take automatically Bahamian status, but not if the father is non-Bahamian and the mother is Bahamian.
Both PM Christie and Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney said the change will not operate retroactively. The government will grant Bahamian citizenship to all applicants born abroad after July 9, 1973 - and before the law changes – to a Bahamian-born mother and non-Bahamian father, subject to the exceptions and in accordance with procedures already prescribed by law.
The second bill enables a Bahamian woman who marries a foreign man to secure for him the same access to Bahamian citizenship that a Bahamian man has always enjoyed under the Constitution in relation to his foreign spouse. The bill contains provisions designed to ensure foreigners, male or female, who enter into bogus marriages with Bahamian citizens, will not be assisted by this constitutional change.
A foreign spouse who wants to acquire Bahamian citizenship based on marriage to a Bahamian will not be eligible for the constitutional change if they are no longer married to a Bahamian, if they are married but have no intention of living with the Bahamian spouse, or if it can be shown that the foreign spouse only married the Bahamian to access Bahamian citizenship. In all these cases, Bahamian citizenship applications will be denied.
The third bill seeks to remediate the one area of the Constitution that discriminates against men based on gender. Presently, an unmarried Bahamian father cannot pass his citizenship to a child born to a foreign woman. The bill will give an unwed Bahamian father the same right to pass citizenship to his child that a Bahamian woman has always had under the Constitution in relation to a child born to her out of wedlock. However, proof of paternity by one of the methods prescribed by law is required.
The final bill will end discrimination based on sex. This involves the insertion of the word “sex” in Article 26 of the Constitution to make it unconstitutional to discriminate based on whether someone is male or female.
It makes clear that the existing exceptions will continue to apply. In particular, same-sex marriages will remain unlawful as prescribed under the Matrimonial Causes Act.
Whilst I can appreciate that men should not enjoy a right that women do not have, I believe that every right and privilege and every freedom guaranteed by our constitution should be equal between male and females. I do have queries and concerns with respect to two of the bills and I will discuss those issues in my follow-up column on Monday.
The government has been unfair with the campaign. The governing party has overtly shown its hand, openly campaigning themselves and financially supporting the ‘Yes vote’ campaign without simultaneously providing seed money for the ‘No vote’ campaign. The issue that presents is that taxpayers money is being used to promote a campaign for fairness whilst the government is itself, hypocritically, being unfair by refusing to sponsor opposing campaigns.
The government and yes vote organisers have gone about this all wrong. The mistake they made was to promote the bills as predominantly beneficial to women as opposed to promoting the bills as seeking to remove constitutional discrimination across the board (which is what, I believe, is intended).
On 27 February, 2002, the Ingraham administration held a referendum to remove discriminatory language from the Constitution.
Among questions of equality were other pertinent questions of national interest. The questions, as proposed then were:
- Do you approve of a Teaching Service Commission?
- Do you approve of the creation of an Independent Boundaries Commission?
- Do you approve of an Independent Parliamentary Commissioner?
- Do you approve amending the Constitution to increase the normal retirement age of judges from 67 to 72 for the Supreme Court, and up to 75 for the Court of Appeal justices?
- Do you approve amending the Constitution to permit foreign spouse of Bahamian citizen to reside and work in The Bahamas for the first five years of marriage, and thereafter entitled to citizenship?
- Do you agree that all forms of discrimination against women, their children and spouses should be removed from the constitution and that no person should be discriminated against on the grounds of gender?
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham decided to “kill two birds with one stone” and originally proposed to hold the referendum on the same day as the election asserting that it would ensure that the “maximum number of persons” participated in the process. He later decided against that.
In the House of Assembly on December 6, 2001, the former Prime Minister stated that he had the support of then Opposition leader Perry Christie and then third party MP Dr Bernard Nottage. By December 20, 2001, the House voted by a margin overwhelmingly in favour of the amendments to the constitution. Thirty-eight MPs voted that day.
The governing Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), though supportive of the amendments in the House, subsequently launched major campaign against the Bills.
Former Attorney General the late Paul Adderley, who was one of the framers of the constitution, claimed that the former prime minister was “getting it all wrong.” Perhaps, it was he — along with others — who, I am told, helped to persuade Mr Christie to change his mind.
The electorate voted against the proposed amendments. Resultantly, the PLP held a grand celebration.
Mr Christie then claimed that the referendum results demonstrated that the Bahamian public is not “dumb and stupid.” He went on to say:
“Rather, the Bahamian people demonstrated that they can separate fact from fiction and that they can and will make up their minds intelligently and rationally based on what they honestly believe to be in their own best interests and the best interests of our nation.” He claimed that the results demonstrated how sacred the people held their constitution.
Yet, here is the same Perry Christie essentially asking Bahamians to repeat the same process but unwilling to apologise for his commentary and his actions in 2002.
About the 2002 referendum, Mr Christie also said: “The clear and unmistakable signal that the Bahamian people telegraphed yesterday is that they do not want any government messing with ‘their things’ unless they, the people, are fully included in the process of constitutional reform from start to finish — and that the process of constitutional reform must never be rushed.”
He clearly rejected change and progress at that time, yet here he is. Unapologetically! In fact, Mr Christie told another daily that he had no intentions of apologising and boldly asserted that “the time has gone. The elections from 2002 are over”.
And then, of course, there is Attorney General Allyson Maynard Gibson who glibly claimed in the Senate in 2012 that the public rejected the amendments in 2002 because of the former prime minister and further claimed that the PLP was not at fault.
Notably, FNM MPs Tennyson Wells, Algernon Allen and Pierre Dupuch also campaigned against the amendments in 2002.
However, what’s of note today is that Bishop Neil Ellis, Archbishop Drexel Gomez and Bishop Samuel Greene — three known PLP pastors — are now campaigning in support of the four Bills when in 2002 they were loudly and fervently against amendments that would have yielded the same outcome. This is bloody hypocrisy!
Fox MP Fred Mitchell was, as the old people say, one of the ring leaders who vehemently opposed the amendments. He urged Bahamian women to be “very cautious”, raised public alarm about the former prime minister’s intentions and told voters that they could be “stuck with a badly drafted Act that has serious consequences”.
Yet, here they all are now campaigning in favour of a vote which would accomplish that which was proposed 14 years ago and doing so unapologetically. There is no wonder that the “no campaign” has gained so much traction when you take into account how intellectually insulting these men have been to the Bahamian people.
They all did a John Kerry (former US Senator, now Secretary of State), except it’s in reverse. They were against the bills and now they are for them! They have offered no sincere explanation as to the sudden about face nor have they offered an apology. But, we all know that it is politics! They did it for political gain!
I respect Alfred Sears for being decent and honourable enough to apologise. This is why I sincerely believe that he is the frontrunner to succeeding Mr Christie as leader of the PLP. His sincerity is refreshing.
On Monday, I will discuss each of the Bills and reveal what I intend to vote on June 7th with respect to each Bill.