BAHAMAS – Gender bill passed
Historic equality legislation approved in Bahamas
NASSAU –– Members of Parliament yesterday passed four constitutional amendment bills.
Two of the bills — Bills 1 and 3 — received unanimous support of members present. St Anne’s MP Hubert Chipman was out on sick leave.
Marco City MP Greg Moss voted against the second bill, which seeks to enable a foreign man married to a Bahamian woman to secure the same access to Bahamian citizenship that a foreign woman married to a Bahamian man enjoys.
Additionally, Moss, along with Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells, voted against the fourth bill, which seeks to make it unconstitutional to discriminate based on sex.
Central Grand Bahama MP Neko Grant abstained from voting on Bill 4.
All other MPs, including the speaker, voted in support of all four bills.
Under the proposed change to the constitution outlined in bill number one, a child born outside The Bahamas would, after the coming into operation of this ammendment, become a citizen at birth if either his or her mother or father is a citizen of The Bahamas by birth.
Bill three would allow an unmarried Bahamian man to pass on his citizenship to his child subject to legal proof that he is the father.
By far, Bill 4 has proved to be most controversial of all the bills.
Moss, Wells and Grant said they continued to be concerned about whether the bill could lead to same-sex marriages, even though the government amended the bill to define sex as being a “male or female”.
Wells and Moss said the amendment did not go far enough.
“When we’re talking about Bills 1, 2 and 3, we are talking about citizenship,” Moss said.
“. . . But when we’re talking about bill four, we are not talking about citizenship; we are talking about the clash between fundamental rights.
“We’re talking about the religious fundamental right being on the same level as the fundamental right for freedom of expression and the fundamental right of the freedom of speech.
“We are talking about them being at the same level. I’m making the point . . . that throughout the world putting the word ‘sex’ includes the word ‘sexual orientation’ and it resolves that clash in favour of same-sex marriage.”
Moss cited several cases in the United States and Europe as he sought to make his point.
He said if it was not the government’s intention to open the door to same-sex marriages, it should insert a proviso to indicate that no marriages would be recognized other than a marriage between a “natural and biological” man and a woman.
“The refusal begs the conclusion that, that is absolutely the intention,” he said.
In a counterargument, Marathon MP Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald said when it came down to it, you were either male or female.
He said the law on the matter of sex was settled and accused Moss of adding confusion to the debate.
“The law in the UK and The Bahamas is based on science,” Fitzgerald said.
“Either you’re male and you have the XY [chromosome] or you’re female; you have the XX [chromosome].
“Now you can change what you want to change; you can cut, you can stitch, you can do whatever, Mr Speaker, whatever you want to do, but you can’t change what you were born with and what the Lord put in you.
“You can’t change that. Mr Speaker, that is settled law. . . and in my opinion the member for Marco City is introducing confusion [into what] is a simple legal issue.”
Fitzgerald said one should not confuse sex with sexual orientation.
“There is a distinction worldwide between discrimination based on sex and discrimination based on sexual orientation,” he said.
“You can’t merge the two, though some places do that. In The Bahamas [we’re] not merging the two. You cannot change your sex.”
Wells, who spoke to reporters outside the House of Assembly, said he opposed Bill 4 for the same reasons that Moss provided.
Last week, Wells said he would be satisfied with a simple amendment to define the word sex.
However, he said yesterday he had changed his mind.
He said there was “ambiguity of the potential for something coming through the back door”.
Wells agreed that the government should include the proviso to prohibit same-sex marriages.
“I have no doubt that in The Bahamas we are going to end up with same-sex unions,” he said.
“We may start off as the Americans did with not necessarily marriage but folks living together and being given certain rights.
“But I have no doubt that, that’s coming to the country. If we are going to have that debate, let’s not try to slip it in with something else. Let’s have that debate out in the open and let us as a society agree.”
Grant, who also spoke outside Parliament, said he abstained from the vote on Bill 4 because he was not “satisfied” with Fitzgerald’s argument.
“You would recall that during the debate I expressed some concerns with it,” he said.
“I was uncomfortable with it; so I thought it best to abstain from voting.”
Moss said he voted against bill two because he did not believe any citizen should be able to give citizenship to a foreigner just by marrying them.
Moss said the right should be taken away from Bahamian men.
The bills will now move to the Senate. In order for the referendum to proceed, three-quarters of the Senate must vote in favour of the measures.
Following passage by the Senate, the bills must be approved by a majority of voters in a referendum if the constitutional changes are to be made.