By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
ANY changes to the country's Sexual Offences Act in consideration of calls to criminalise marital rape are off the table until next year as the government prioritises more pressing legislative matters, Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Tribune yesterday.
Right now, he said, the financial well being of the country trumps all.
He explained there are several financial bills that must be passed by December.
Given this timeline, when the House of Assembly returns from its summer break next Wednesday, the government is set to embark upon an aggressive legislative agenda, Mr Bethel said.
"We have a lot of financial, immigration and crime bills to get through and very little time to get all passed as is. The financial bills alone are about five or six," he said when asked if it was likely an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act would come this year.
"December 2018 is the hard deadline for the European Union BEPS project. We still have four bills to pass (and) we still have FATF (Financial Action Task Force) Bills to pass.
"The agenda will be intense and packed."
The government is still consulting over marital rape.
This issue was again reignited last December after the UN's special rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, said marital rape is the most pressing gender-based issue facing the Bahamas.
She made the remarks during her inaugural country visit to the Bahamas.
She further stressed the legality of martial rape is "a sign that something is deeply wrong," adding that the issue could easily be resolved through legislative changes.
Her comments sparked widespread public discourse.
Amid discussions the Bahamas Christian Council released its proposal for a companion bill to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act that seeks to establish another advisory council to set rules for Bahamian marriages, legislate counselling and effect tax incentives for married couples who live together.
The BCC at the time withheld its position on whether it would support proposed amendments, which would criminalise marital rape, until after the final bill is presented by the government.
However, legal counsel Michael Allen explained there has been a general consensus from the body on the need for a legislative approach to abuses that can occur within a marriage.
Mr Allen said the council's concerns centre on proving the abuse, and the strength and range of penalties; he added the council has suggested the sentencing tribunal is afforded the full range of options from counselling to life imprisonment.
It was also suggested the intervention of the attorney general in these matters be dropped, with an exception for cases involving people under the age of 21.
BCC President Bishop Delton Fernander has said the council believes its companion bill, named the Sanctity of Marriage Bill 2018, will strengthen "God-ordained" marriages and offer corrective incentives that could prevent the incidence of abuse.