By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
ORGANISER of the government’s Constitutional reform education campaign, retired Justice Ruby Nottage, said yesterday that she was “taken aback” by the announcement that parliamentary debate of the highly anticipated equality Bills would be delayed.
However, Prime Minister Perry Christie said given the complexity of the Constitutional changes, additional time was acceptable to allow the electorate to become well versed on the changes to come. He noted that the referendum would not take place unless there was unity on both sides of the House of Assembly.
Debate on the Constitutional Bills is expected to begin next Wednesday. The delay came after Opposition leader Dr Hubert Minnis requested that the debate be put off with a view to giving not only Free National Movement supporters, but their constituents adequate time for education.
Dr Minnis said: “I know the stress, the hardships, and the discrimination they suffer. It is a constitutional matter that we must deal with and as you know the Constitution is the heart and the soul of our country. Therefore, I think the opposition would like additional time to review and discuss the matter even with its constituents, so that there is a proper understanding among its constituents, a proper understanding among its supporters and a proper understanding, especially among all Bahamians and women and men at large so that they can understand what exactly this equality bill is all about.”
When asked by House Speaker Dr Kendal Major what amount of time the opposition was considering, Dr Minnis said it was difficult to say.
Mr Christie said in the meantime the Constitutional Commission could address the opposition and ensure that there was full understanding.
Leader of government business in the House, Dr Bernard Nottage, said he was under the impression that the opposition would only need an additional week. He suggested that during the coming week, both government and opposition officials meet to discuss the Bills to be debated.
The first Bahamas Constitution Bill 2014 seeks to achieve gender equality. As it now stands a child born outside the Bahamas to an unmarried Bahamian woman automatically acquires Bahamian citizenship. In other words under the present law, wherever born an illegitimate child takes the Bahamian mother’s nationality. However, if that Bahamian woman were married to a foreigner and the child of the union were born outside the Bahamas, the child would not be Bahamian. It would take the nationality of its foreign father or of the country in which it was born. However, under the proposed bill such a child, born of a Bahamian mother, married to a foreigner, would also now have Bahamian nationality. Presently, only those children born outside the Bahamas of a Bahamian father are Bahamian, regardless of the mother’s nationality.
The second Bill would allow a Bahamian woman who marries a foreigner to secure for her husband the same rights to Bahamian citizenship as a Bahamian man, under the present Constitution, has always been able to confer on his foreign wife.
The third Bill seeks to remedy 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 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.