Adrian Gibson explains why his desire for equality in The Bahamas overrides his misgivings about some of the referendum bills . . .
Up to writing this piece last night whilst in Long Island, I remained undecided about whether I would entirely support the government’s proposed Constitutional Referendum and continued to read the arguments of both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns, the Constitutional Commission’s report and the related legal authorities that could provide further elucidation of the issues. I have now decided.
Unfortunately, Tuesday’s constitutional referendum has become deeply mired in the political and historical hangovers and jostling from the failed 2002 referendum.
Over the last few months, I have heard arguments ranging from Bill #4 being advanced to “backdoor in same-sex marriages” to persons expressing feelings that if Bill #2 is passed, “foreign men will come into The Bahamas, marry our women, get citizenship off of them, kick them in their (expletive) and then bring in the woman who they truly love, only to give her and their children citizenship.”
Sadly, the government has not dispelled such feelings among the populace. I have listened to many in Long Island and I have been told, by a ratio of 5 to 1, that folks are voting no on Tuesday or not voting at all. Due to the government’s failure to be more tolerant, inclusive of opposing views and their failure to include a Bill #5, as suggested by the Constitutional Commission, there is the chance that the referendum will go up in smoke.
Indeed, we need to eliminate all forms of discrimination from our Constitution - the supreme law of the land. In 2002, an effort that was voted on by all Parliamentarians sought to do so. However that was subsequently torpedoed by the Progressive Liberal Party, who sought to gain political mileage leading into the general election.
I had just entered college before that referendum and I recall much of the narrative that was heavily weighted with the language we see being used today, from “Haitians will come and breed up our women” to “Englishmen will come, sex our women, get citizenship and then bring in their true loves” to “the government is trying to promote sissying”, and so on.
Yes, Bahamians are - honestly - xenophobic, anti-gay and there is a very deep religious/conservative movement. Combined with the failed gambling referendum and the government’s disregard of the people’s vote and a belief that this government is dishonest, disingenuous and untrustworthy in its proclamations to the Bahamian people - unless we have a moral purgation by Tuesday - these Bills could fail. The Bills won’t fail because they are wrong, but because of what I have just stated.
Just as I’ve done previously, I spoke to several women and men this week and more women than men have told me that they will vote no. Much of the prejudices we see today are deeply rooted and, in many ways, relate to the reality of life in The Bahamas where the vast majority of children are born out of wedlock (among other social issues).
Let me say that whatever changes are made relative to the removal of discrimination from the Constitution, the government needs to constantly and consistently clarify - along with the Church - that there is absolutely no chance of same-sex marriages occurring in this country due to any constitutional changes.
People are very, very concerned about that.
According to Prime Minister Perry Christie, the four Bills 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 married 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 Mr 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. I support Bill #1. Fully.
No child or Bahamian woman should be unfairly discriminated against because they were born to a foreign father and/or because they fell in love with a foreign man and had a child. If I - if married to a foreign woman - could now automatically pass on my citizenship, per the Constitution, to a child born outside The Bahamas I would expect that Bahamian women married to foreign men and giving birth to children outside The Bahamas should be able to do the same. There is no debate about that.
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.
In the US, there are two classes of citizenship: birth right citizenship and naturalised citizenship. The latter carry certain limitations. Thus far, I have heard no limitations proposed with respect to citizenship to be acquired by Bill #2. The same should apply to circumstances where men also marry foreign women. Today, I have not heard the government espouse any limitations.
The US constitution clearly states, at Article Two, that: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”
In this instance, the Americans have clearly reserved positions within government - such as the Presidency and Vice Presidency - for natural born citizens. If the Speaker of the House is a naturalised citizen, he - according to their Presidential Succession Act - will be passed over.
I have heard the argument that foreign nationals could seek political office and become elected, even eventually become Prime Minister in The Bahamas. Whilst I think that a naturalised citizen becoming Prime Minister is unlikely, the government ought to have dispelled such fears by proposing legislation that specifically addresses such concerns. As it stands, the government can only rely upon the notion that Bahamian MPs would nix such an occurrence from ever happening.
In the United States, naturalised citizens can are free to reside and work, free to enter and leave the country, vote, stand for public office (except those specifically restricted), be called to sit on juries, participate in the military, pay taxes, invest in real property without triggering the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act and/or associated taxes, transfer US citizenship to children born abroad, are protected from deportation and so on. It is likely that many of the aforesaid conditions are already applicable in the Bahamas and will now be extended to the spouses of Bahamian women.
Whilst I have certain reservations and would require the Department of Immigration to engage in thorough due diligence exercises, I am confident that women should have the same rights much as a man already does.
The government should also take account of the political concerns of Bahamians.
I also believe that men and women seeking citizenship upon marriage should satisfy certain set requirements, namely that they have been permanent residents for a number of years, married to a Bahamian citizen for about ten years, must be of good moral character, of sound mind and able to pass citizenship exams.
Given the above, and my fundamental belief in equality, I will support Bill #2.
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.
I wholeheartedly support Bill #3. I am so overjoyed to see this bill being proposed as many fathers have suffered inequalities due to the Constitution being discriminatory to men in this regard.
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.
I have tossed and turned about this bill.
Talk of same-sex marriage and rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community have come to define the debate about the referendum. Government officials and organisers of the Yes Bahamas campaign have pushed back against this narrative, stressing that tomorrow’s vote is about equal rights for men and women in the Constitution.
I am concerned that the government failed to heed the Constitutional Commission’s recommendation to include a restriction to guard against same-sex marriage, one that reads “paragraph 1 of this Article shall not apply to any law so far as that law makes provisions - (f) for prohibiting same-sex marriage or rendering the same void or unlawful.” If the government had heeded this request, we would not see much of the political and religious pushback that we are now experiencing and that could possibly cause Bill #4 to be defeated.
I cannot and do not support same-sex marriage in any way. In fact, I am one of those persons who would vehemently fight against any attempt to bring about same-sex marriage in this country.
That said, I can appreciate that Bill #4 seeks to eliminate discrimination between men and women in our Constitution.
I am a supporter of equality for men and women across the board. Given that, I will support Bill #4.
We will see what the final verdict is tomorrow.
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