The local launch of the YES Bahamas campaign was held at the Anglican Hall in Marsh Harbour on April 27. The campaign announced its two local co-chairs: Wynsome Ferguson and Kendy Anderson. Also on the panel were National Co-Chairs Lynn Holowesko and Senator Sharon Wilson, Island Administrator Charles Moss and National Co-Executive Director Heather Hunt.
The YES Campaign is designed to promote equal rights for Bahamian men and women and encourage Bahamians to vote “yes” on the four Constitutional amendment Bills to be presented on the June 7 Referendum. It aims to do this by educating Bahamians and clearing misconceptions surrounding the Bills.
The panel explained the four bills:
Amendment 1: Under this proposed change to the Constitution, a child born outside The Bahamas would become a Bahamian citizen at birth if either its mother or father is a citizen of The Bahamas by birth. Right now only children born abroad to Bahamian fathers – but not Bahamian mothers – receive automatic citizenship
Amendment 2: Under this proposed change to the Constitution, the foreign spouse of a Bahamian citizen would be entitled to apply for and obtain citizenship subject to satisfying: (i) existing national security or public policy considerations; and (ii) new provisions guarding against marriages of convenience. This allows the foreign spouse of a Bahamian woman to obtain Bahamian citizenship – just like a foreign spouse of a Bahamian man can today. Right now, the foreign spouse of a Bahamian woman CANNOT obtain citizenship.
Amendment 3: Under this proposed change to the Constitution, a Bahamian father of a person born out of wedlock would be able to pass his citizenship to that person subject to legal proof that he is the father. This allows a Bahamian father to pass citizenship to his child out of wedlock.
Amendment 4: Under this proposed change to the Constitution, it would be unlawful to discriminate based on “sex”, which would be defined as “being male or female,” with the effect that women and men would have equal rights under the Constitution. This makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of sex – sex is defined as being male or female.
The Anglican Hall was full as many came to either show their support for or seek clarification on the Bills.
The most commonly echoed concern was that Bill 4 would lead to same-sex marriage. The panel explained that Bill 4 would not lead to same-sex marriage because there is already a constitutionally protected law that prevents it: the Matrimonial Causes Act (1879), which is supported by Article 26(4) of the Constitution. The panel went on to further explain that Bill 4 would, in fact, make it more difficult for same-sex marriage to be recognized in the country because while the word “sex” is currently in the Constitution it is not defined. Bill 4 would define “sex” as chromosomally male or female at birth.
One concern a citizen brought up during the question and answer session was that recognizing women as equal to men goes against his interpretation of God’s Word. The panel responded that the group seeks to enshrine equal rights under the law – not in Bahamians’ personal lives or private institutions.
The panel explained that the constitution seeks to bring true equality to the sexes, as there are even discriminatory laws against men: such as paternity leave not being equal to maternity leave and fathers unable to pass their citizenship on to their children out of wedlock. The panelists concluded that if the country is serious about fathers taking a real role in their children’s’ lives, and the widespread occurrence of men having “outside children,” then the country must vote yes to allow men to Amendment 3.
With women being such an active presence in Bahamian politics and business, the panelists argued that if women
shared the same responsibilities as men they deserved the same rights – which would mean a “yes” vote for Bill 1.
A vote for Bill 4, they reiterated after dismissing the same-sex marriage fears (pointing to the Constitutionally protected Matrimonial Causes Act), would simply prevent Parliament from enacting laws that discriminate based on biological sex.
Clarifying Bill 2, the panel explained that it simply open the ABILITY TO APPLY for the spouse’s citizenship – not automatic citizenship.
In reference to concerns that the results of this Referendum would be ignored like the Gambling Referendum: the panel explained that the June 7 is a Constitutional Referendum as opposed to the Gaming Referendum which was Advisory.
The local Co-Chairs Ferguson and Anderson gave their thanks and welcomed any concerned residents to contact them in the coming weeks.
Refreshments were served after the question and answer session.
The Referendum will be held June 7. The deadline to register to vote is May 25.