By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
SAVE Our Bahamas yesterday said the Christie administration has not shown any interest in “balancing the tables” ahead of the gender equality referendum, stressing that it has “unfairly” thrown its full support behind the government funded YES Bahamas campaign.
Pastor Lyall Bethel, a member of the religious group urging a no vote to constitutional amendment four on the grounds that it would open the door to same-sex marriage, said the government wasn’t ready to be “accountable and fair” in this situation. He added that the Christie administration has labelled any group that opposes its stance as “fearmongers.”
He also insisted that the YES Bahamas campaign was a “brainwashing mechanism” spearheaded by the Christie administration to push its views on the upcoming gender equality referendum.
He stressed that YES Bahamas was not attempting to educate the public on the legal and social context of the four constitutional amendments as proposed.
“There is no education taking place. That group since its inception has done nothing but called for a ‘yes’ vote. Where is the education in that?”
He lambasted the Christie administration for its refusal to fund groups opposing a “yes” vote.
The group previously wrote to Prime Minister Perry Christie requesting $100,000 to fund a vote “no” campaign.
Senate President Sharon Wilson, co-chair of the YES Bahamas campaign, has confirmed to The Tribune that public funds are fuelling the group’s campaign.
Constitutional Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney has said that for legal reasons both the “yes” and “no” campaigns should have equal access to public funds.
According to Pastor Bethel, the government has no interest in funding opposing views out of fear that the June 7 vote would fail.
Pastor Bethel said the Christie administration was more focused on silencing opposing views than it was on ensuring a balanced educational campaign.
He was speaking to treatment of comments by former Court of Appeal President Dame Joan Sawyer.
Dame Joan recently told The Nassau Guardian that she didn’t see the need for the June 7 vote, insisting that if she were to take part in the referendum, she would vote no because she saw no issue with the current status of women in the country. However, she made this statement after admitting that she had not read the four proposed bills.
“All of this is sad,” Pastor Bethel told the Tribune yesterday. “Anyone that isn’t talking the right narrative is being completely destroyed. Dame Joan Sawyer, one of the brightest legal minds in this country, is now being ridiculed because she opted to point out her take on these bills.”
Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson, responding to Dame Joan’s comments last Monday said the main purpose of the referendum is to ensure that “equality under our laws be enshrined in our nation’s most important legal document.”
Subsequently, Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner last Thursday in an interview with The Tribune said she was “bothered” by the former chief justice’s declaration that if she did vote, she would vote no, despite not reading any of the proposed questions.
“Dame Joan is misleading the electorate,” Mrs Butler-Turner said.
Then, on Thursday, former PLP Cabinet minister George Smith said Dame Joan’s comments showed that she was “absolutely mistaken” on the needed constitutional changes.
Pastor Bethel added: “Now her legal knowledge isn’t up to par? I have read and listened with great interest the reports that smear and misrepresent what she said. This entire ordeal is sad. I’m sorry, just because someone opposes your stance on a matter, that doesn’t give you the right as a government to attack them.”
On Monday the YES Bahamas campaign announced that it would launch an educational hotline to answer questions and aid the public with information pertaining to the constitutional amendments.
The campaign said the hotline would be staffed by lawyers trained on the issues involved in the referendum.
The hotline will launch at 5pm this evening and will be available weekdays from 5pm to 9pm and 9am to 1pm on weekends. To contact the hotline, call 322-3010/11/12.