By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE four Constitutional (Amendment) Bills were read for the first time in the Senate yesterday, moving the country one step closer to a long-promised gender equality referendum that seeks to give equal rights to men and women in the Constitution.
Speaking with a unified voice in the Upper Chamber yesterday, Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson, leader of government business in the Senate, and Senator Carl Bethel, leader of opposition business in the Senate, hailed the initial reading of the four pieces of legislation as an important day in the forward movement of The Bahamas.
“The bills being tabled today have a simple but powerful purpose, and that is to ensure that our Bahamian daughters and our Bahamian sons have the same rights and opportunities under our laws,” Mrs Maynard-Gibson said.
“With four common sense changes, men and women will pass citizenship to their families in the same way, and make it unconstitutional for any future Parliament to pass a law that discriminates against either men or women.”
She added: “These bills do not propose to bring radical change to our country. Instead, the intention is to ensure that Bahamian mothers and fathers each have the same rights and the same responsibilities.
“Our children deserve this basic fairness.”
Bill one as written would give Bahamian women who are married to foreign men the right to pass on their Bahamian citizenship to any child of that union no matter where that child is born.
The Constitution currently says that only Bahamian male citizens by birth have that right.
Bill two as written would allow a Bahamian woman married to a foreign man the right to secure for her husband the same access to Bahamian citizenship as a Bahamian male has in relation to his foreign wife.
Bill three would grant any unmarried Bahamian man the right to pass on his Bahamian citizenship to any child he fathers with a foreign woman with proof of paternity.
Bill four, regarded as the most controversial, seeks to prevent discrimination of any type based on sex - or being male or female.
Mr Bethel, speaking directly to the fourth bill, said while much public debate has taken place with regards to the wording used, he and many of the other opposition members are content with the bill’s proposed intention.
Mr Bethel yesterday encouraged the government to ensure that the public is made more aware of what the bill will do.
“I think that it is important for the Bahamian people to note that if anyone looks at the (Constitutional) Commission’s report, there are any number of areas that are covered here. The whole report is based on the understanding that it is the duty of the government today, as a matter of policy, to determine which items move forward, if and when,” he said.
The House of Assembly approved the bills last week.
The first bill was passed by all 37 members present in the House of Assembly. Marco City MP Greg Moss voted against bill two and bill three was passed with the full support of the members present in the Lower Chamber.
The fourth bill, which some critics believe will lead to gay marriage, was passed by a vote of 34 members of Parliament supporting it, two voting no and one abstaining.
Mr Moss and Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells voted against the bill while Central Grand Bahama MP Neko Grant abstained.
St Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman was absent from the vote due to illness.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bills during its next sitting scheduled for March 9. Once approved by three quarters of the Senate, a constitutional referendum can take place.