A historic day in the House of Assembly Wednesday, March 2 resulted in four highly contentious Amendment Bills being passed in Parliament, moving the process two steps closer to gender equality for both men and women in The Bahamas.
Prior to the passing of the monumental Bill Amendments, Minister of Education, Science and Technology Jerome Fitzgerald shared with his colleagues and a packed galley that the Amendments were of utmost importance to Bahamians, now and those in future generations to come.
“We have to do what is right now, we are one of very few countries still left in the world where this discrimination exists Mr, Speaker. The legal authority in this country, has met with all religious entities and they understand this point. They are the moral authority and they have issued statements,” said Fitzgerald.
“I want to encourage all members of Parliament to support every single one of these Amendments and not let any personal prejudice and misunderstanding come into this debate today. This is an historic day, we do not want one member of this Parliament to be on the wrong side of history, because generations from now, our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will look back and we will have to rationalise to them why we made the decision we made. I encourage us all, forward, upward, onward and together.”
Leader of the newly formed United Democratic Party (UDP), Greg Moss, member of Parliament for Macro City too voiced his objection to Bills 2 and 4, which he opposed at the initial introductions of the Bills.
Moss, yesterday, argued that the word sex, will leave grounds open for judicial argument for same sex marriage in the country. He drew reference to several countries; however, Fitzgerald refuted Moss’ concerns with definitions of the words sex and sexual orientation.
Fitzgerald explained that under The Bahamas’ Constitution that was not possible.
Fitzgerald pointed out that The Bahamas Constitution defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman and that the sex of an individual is determined at birth by their genetic (or chromosomal) make-up. He reiterated that the House should not confuse “sex” with “sexual orientation” as they are entirely different.
The Member of Parliament for Central and South Eleuthera, Damien Gomez furthered, “I move the following Amendment to Clause 2, delete the clause and substitute the following, Amendment to Article 26 of the Constitution, Article 26 of the Constitution amended 9 (a) in paragraphs 3 and 5 by the deletion of the words ‘creed’ and the substitution therefore of the words ‘creed or sex’ and (b) by the insertion immediately after, paragraph 10, with the following new paragraph 11 in this chapter, “Sex being male or female.”
He added that under the proposed change to the constitution of clause 3, it would be unlawful to discriminate based on sex which would be defined as male or female.
With the exception of the Member of Parliament for St. Anne’s Hubert Chipman all members voiced their opinions on the four Amendments Bill.
The first Bill seeks to give a child born outside of The Bahamas to a Bahamian born mother and a non-Bahamian father should receive the same automatic right to Bahamian citizenship that a child born outside of The Bahamas to a Bahamian-born father and non-Bahamian mother presently receives.
Members voted unanimously to this Bil, 37- yes, one - absent.
The second Bill passed seeks to allow a Bahamian woman who marries a non-Bahamian man to secure the same access to Bahamian citizenship for her husband as a Bahamian man presently has for a non-Bahamian wife.
Following the roll call of Members, it showed that 36 voted yes, one absent; leader of the newly formed United Democratic Party (UDP), Greg Moss, member of Parliament for Macro City voted no.
The third, Bill seeking to afford an unwed Bahamian male the right to pass citizenship to his child born to a foreign woman was also passed. Presently, unwed Bahamian mothers have this right with respect to their children born out of wedlock.
This Bill got 37 yes votes.
Bill #4 seeks to end discrimination based on sex, sex being defined as male or female. This Bill was most controversial, as many, particularly those in the religious sector voiced their belief that it would open the ‘door’ to same sex marriage in the country.
However, the Bill was passed with 34 -yes votes; two - no votes; one - absent and one - abstaining.
Moss and Renward Wells voted no and the member of Parliament for Central Grand Bahama abstained from voting.
A number of adjustments were tabled in the House prior to the division results among the Parliamentarians.
Deputy Speaker of the House, Dion Smith, MP for Nassau Village after chairing the Committee as a Whole told the Speaker of the House, Dr. Kendal Major the Amendments to the Bills stating, “I beg leave to report that the Committee as a whole have met and went through several Bills having made amendments to Bill #111 to the preamble to Clause 1, 2, and 4; Bill #112 Amendments to the preamble clause 1, 2 and 3. Bill #113 there was an amendment to the preamble Clause 1, 2 , and 3. Bill #114, there was an amendment to the preamble Clause 1, 2, and 3. Bill #115 there was an amendment to clause 1, 2 and the insertion of a new clause.”
The division results for the four gender equality Bill Amendments were as follows:
Bahamas Constitution Amendment Bill 2014, Bill #111 was passed with 37 yes and 1 absent division results.
The Bill to enact an amendment to the Bahamas Constitution Bill 2014, Bill #112 was passed with 36 in favor, 1 not in favor, and 1 absent.
The Bill to enact an amendment to the Bahamas Constitution 2014 Bill #3 resulted in 37 yes and one absent.
The Bill to enact an amendment to the Bahamas Constitution 2014 Bill # 4 resulted in 34 yes, two no, 1 abstain and one absent.
The fifth Bill discussed in the House on Wednesday and was passed by consensus was the Bill to enact the status of children Act. The bill was passed and the status was declared to be the Status of Children Amendment Act 2014.
With the Bills now passed in the HOA, they will be brought before the Senate and before going to a National Referendum to the people of The Bahamas.
Published Thursday, March 3, 2016