BISHOP Walter Hanchell, instead of encouraging a “yes” vote on June 7th in the constitutional referendum that will at last give equal rights to Bahamian men and women, has chosen to play on the fears of insecure Bahamian men by warning that if Bahamian women’s foreign husbands were to be given status on marriage it would encourage an “influx” of foreign men using Bahamian women as a “ticket” to get work.
There was a time under the Pindling government when a Bahamian woman – unlike her male counterpart — who married a foreigner would leave The Bahamas because her husband had no right to residence and, therefore, could not work here to support his family. During that era, we knew of several unhappy Bahamian families, who had chosen to remain. However, in those cases, the Bahamian mother had to go out to earn the living, while her foreign husband stayed at home to do the housework.
In other cases, politics destroyed many marriages. In one case, a Turks Island husband was banned from Inagua, where he had lived all his life, because his Bahamian wife refused to support the PLP. We shall recount many of these heartbreaking stories so that Bahamians, who did not have to suffer such hell, will understand how many Bahamian marriages were destroyed and families torn apart by politics. This political cruelty was enabled by a law that denied Bahamian women the same nationality rights for her husband and children as that held as of right by her male counterpart. Bitter children of these suffering marriages were left to pass their hatred down through the generations. How often have we heard a child, now grown to adulthood describe their hatred for the PLP. They declare that they will tell their story from generation to generation so that none of their heirs will ever make the mistake of supporting the PLP. How many times have we heard young men comment, “I shall never vote for them because of the way they treated ‘my grammy’”.
A “yes” vote on June 7th would remove this inequality and the power of ruthless politicians over the personal lives of citizens. We do not understand persons like Bishop Hanchell, who must know of whereof we write, but who would retain this inequality for women, leaving them at the mercy of spiteful politicians.
On Tuesday, June 7, Bahamians will vote for four Bills.
• The first Bill will give a Bahamian woman the same rights as a Bahamian man to pass on citizenship to her children born outside of The Bahamas.
• Bill two would give a Bahamian woman the same rights as a Bahamian man to pass on citizenship to her foreign husband.
• Bill three would give a Bahamian father the same rights as a Bahamian mother to pass on citizenship to his child born out of wedlock, provided there was proof of paternity.
• The final bill would make it unconstitutional to discriminate on the grounds of sex, meaning male or female.
Although there has been some opposition to bills one, two and three, the main opposition is to the fourth bill, which many Bahamians claim will lead to the approval of homosexual marriages.
This bill will not do that — already on our statute books there is a definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. However, despite initially supporting this bill, human rights activist Erin Greene has now withdrawn her support. Her new position is that if bill four were passed, “we run the risk of erasing intersex people from the law”.
Although nothing in these bills will open the door for homosexual marriages, this is a subject that Bahamians will have to face sometime in the future. Don’t forget that the newly-appointed secretary general of the Commonwealth— Baroness Scotland — has announced that she will spend the first two years in her new post persuading the 40-member Commonwealth to decriminalise homosexuality. So the subject will probably come up at that time in the future, but for the present same sex marriage will not enter through any of these four bills. So don’t use that as an excuse to vote “no”.
The stories that we shall tell happened during the Pindling era. However, when the Ingraham administration entered, this particular practice against foreign husbands was softened to protect marriages. It was also designed to lessen the possibility of marriages of convenience. A Bahamian woman could apply for a five-year spousal permit for her foreign husband. During this period, he did not need a work permit to get a job to support his family. At the end of the five-year period, if the marriage had proved to be sound, the husband became a permanent resident with all the rights of a citizen. However, since the return of the PLP in 2012 — the party that caused the defeat of the first referendum only because it had been launched by the FNM — did some tinkering. We know of a Bahamian woman whose husband had completed his five-year residency in 2012. During this time, a son was born. In every way, the couple had a sound marriage. But what were they told? The PLP had changed the rules. It seems that the five-year probation period will never end. In other words, their marriage is existing from five years to five years. At the end of every five years, they have to make a trip to immigration to prove that they are still together and apply for another five-year period. At the end of every five years, they have to pay a stipend.
If this demeaning situation seems fair to Bahamians, then vote “no” to putting a Bahamian woman on the same level with the Bahamian male. If they have the decency to understand the unfairness of this situation, then they should vote “yes” for the referendum, especially to give a Bahamian woman the same rights as a Bahamian man to pass on citizenship to her foreign husband and her children born outside of the Bahamas. In fact, they should vote “yes’ to all four bills.