Gender bills pass in Senate

Before the four gender equality bills passed unanimously in the Senate yesterday, Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson made her case for Bahamians to support the proposed referendum by noting that the late Dr. Myles Munroe supported the constitutional amendment bills and his recommendation to revise bill number four has been honored.

Before his death in 2014, Munroe, president of Bahamas Faith Ministries International (BFMI), indicated his support for gender equality.

He and BFMI’s legal team submitted a proposal to the government and the Constitutional Commission seeking the amendment of bill number four.

That bill would make it unconstitutional to discriminate against someone based on sex.

The word “sex” has been defined as a male and female.

During her contribution to debate on the bills in the Senate, Maynard-Gibson said, “It was the suggestion of Dr. Myles Munroe that we in our constitution define sex as being male or female.

“He was satisfied by this change and he supported this fourth bill, and indeed, all four bills.

“I note too, Madam President, the many religious leaders, who have stepped forward in support of these bills.

“They prayed and they are moving their feet.

“It is my prayer that we all follow their example and not allow those whose fears have no foundation to prevent us from giving our sons and daughters equal rights under our constitution.”

Maynard-Gibson pointed out that same-sex marriage is unlawful.

She insisted a successful gender equality referendum would not change that.

She also said she has been advised that there have been no cases in Commonwealth countries with Westminster-style constitutions where “sex as a ground of non-discrimination has led to recognition of same-sex marriage”.

“So, the trouble for those who would raise the specter of same-sex marriage is that the facts are not cooperating,” Maynard-Gibson said.

She added, “Madam President, ‘sex’ should not be understood to mean sexual orientation.”

Under bill number one, a child born outside The Bahamas would become a citizen at birth if his or her mother or father is a citizen of The Bahamas by birth.

Bill two would 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.

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.

Bills two and four have been met with widespread public backlash and also strong opposition from several members of Parliament.

Those who oppose bill four fear it could lead to legal challenges in support of same-sex marriage despite assurances from the government that it would not.

Declaring citizenship is one of The Bahamas’ most “precious gifts”, Maynard-Gibson said citizenship is not granted automatically, nor will it be following a successful referendum.

“The same will apply to the husband of a Bahamian woman who applies for citizenship,” Maynard-Gibson said.

“The process must be followed. Citizenship is not automatic.

“As the law stands, the wife of a Bahamian man usually obtains a spousal permit annually for five years, after which, permanent residency with the right to work may be granted.

“Citizenship is usually granted after permanent residency and that process could take up to 10 years.

“The same will apply to the husband of a Bahamian woman.

“And it can hardly be said that a couple who has been married for 10 years, raised children, owns a home, [has] a job and [has] contributed to society have a marriage of convenience.”

The government passed legislation last year that made marriages of convenience and other fraudulent marriages illegal.

The attorney general said giving foreign husbands of Bahamian women, who meet the criteria, the right to apply for Bahamian citizenship means “enabling these men to be better husbands and fathers to their wives and children who love them, and telling them we value their role in Bahamian families and in building our nation”.

The bills were passed in the House of Assembly last Wednesday.

The government intends to hold the gender equality referendum before the end of July.

The Nassau Guardian