Referendum on June 7
Prime Minister Perry Christie announced yesterday that the gender equality referendum will be held on June 7.
During the launch of the ‘YES Bahamas’ campaign at The College of The Bahamas, he urged Bahamians against allowing “false rumors” to sway their vote.
Christie also announced that Senate President Lady Sharon Wilson and former Senate President Lynn Holowesko are the co-chairs of the campaign.
“On Tuesday, June 7, Bahamians will be asked to vote yes on four commonsense changes to our constitution, so that Bahamian men and women are able to pass citizenship to their families in the same way, and so that it will be impossible for any future Parliament to pass laws discriminating against either men or women,” Christie said.
“I want to be clear, these bills do not propose radical changes. Instead, this is about making sure that the supreme law of the land reflects our values and our commitment to fairness.”
Last month, the constitutional amendment bills were passed with near unanimous support in the House of Assembly and unanimous support in the Senate, paving the way for a referendum.
However, there has been considerable opposition to at least two of the bills.
Some fear that bill two would lead to marriages of convenience and bill four would lead to same-sex marriages.
Bill two 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.
Bill four would make it unconstitutional to discriminate based on sex.
As he sought to dispel the “misconceptions” related to bill four, Christie said under the Matrimonial Causes Act, marriage must be between a man and a woman, and the amendment would not change that.
“I am so emphatic because it is so important for Bahamians to vote on what is really at stake — equal rights for our sons and daughters — and not let false rumors or incorrect information to hold sway.
“I am advised that there have been no cases in Commonwealth countries like ours, with the Westminster-style constitution in which the right to non-discrimination on the basis of sex led to a judicially-created right to same-sex marriage.
“It just doesn’t happen. It isn’t intended to happen and it will not happen here.”
As it relates to bill two, Christie insisted the bill does not make citizenship automatic for foreign husbands, just as it isn’t currently automatic for foreign wives.
“There is nothing easy or quick or convenient about becoming a citizen this way,” he said.
“The process typically takes more than 10 years and involves interviews and inspections to ensure the marriage is legitimate.”
Bills one and three seem to have received widespread public support, although there are some who remain opposed to the bills.
Bill one seeks to enable a child born outside The Bahamas to 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 born to a foreign mother in The Bahamas subject to legal proof that he is the father.
Referring to bill three, Christie said, “We are ready for a constitution that supports fathers who want to keep their children close.”
The referendum has been postponed several times since 2013.
Wilson said the cries of Bahamians will finally be heard in June.
She said immense public education and discussions will begin soon.
Holowesko encouraged Bahamians to vote based on facts and not emotions.
“Everything we say or do should not be based on our political affiliations,” she said.
“There are times when our country must be above parties. We cannot in good conscience base our decisions and decide such issues on politics or spite. It would be immature for us as a people to turn this referendum into a political football.”
During a similar exercise in 2002, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) supported the bills in the House of Assembly, but later campaigned against the referendum in public.
The referendum failed.
Christie, who was opposition leader at the time, said on March 2 that the PLP objected to the FNM government’s handling of the referendum.
He said the then government failed to consult the church.
Christie encouraged Bahamians yesterday to do the “right thing” when referendum day comes.
Former senators Cheryl Bazard (PLP) and Heather Hunt (FNM) were appointed as co-executive directors of the campaign.