Constitutional Bills the Government’s Lawyer says “will strengthen our families, our society and our nation”
Nassau, Bahamas – (Senate Speaking Notes on Referendum Bills – March 7th, 2016) Madam President, today standing on the shoulders of the Suffragettes, including my Grandmother Georgiana Kathleen Symonette and in the shadow if Dame Doris Johnson, the first female President of the Senate, it is with great joy and enormous gratitude that at the first reading stage I will bring to the Senate today four bills to give men and women equal rights under our nation’s Constitution. These bills won nearly unanimous support in the House of Assembly last week, and should they win three-quarters or more support in our Senate chamber, they will go to the people for a vote in a referendum.
The bills being tabled today have a simple but powerful purpose, and that is to ensure that our Bahamian daughters and our Bahamian sons have the same rights and opportunities under our laws. With four common sense changes, men and women will pass citizenship to their families in the same way, and make it unconstitutional for any future Parliament to pass a law that discriminates against either men or women.
These four bills will strengthen our families, our society and our nation:
* Bill #1 will grant the legal right to a Bahamian woman married to a non Bahamian man to automatically pass on her Bahamian citizenship to her child born where the child is born abroad just as a Bahamian man married to a non-Bahamian woman currently has the legal right and privilege of doing under the Constitution;
* Bill #2 will enable a Bahamian woman who marries a non-Bahamian man to secure for him the same access to Bahamian citizenship that a Bahamian man married to a non-Bahamian woman currently enjoys under the constitution, should they be able to prove that the marriage is legitimate;
* Bill #3 will grant to an unmarried Bahamian man the legal right to pass on his Bahamian citizenship to his child fathered with a non-Bahamian woman (with proof of paternity)- a right that currently only unmarried Bahamian women have; and
* Bill #4 will amend Article 26 of the Constitution so that it becomes unconstitutional to discriminate against anyone on the basis of them being male or female.
These bills do not propose to bring radical change to our country. Instead, the intention is to ensure that Bahamian mothers and fathers each have the same rights and the same responsibilities.
Our children deserve this basic fairness.
As the Constitutional Commission wrote in their Report: “To provide for different treatment on the basis of gender is tantamount to saying that there are classes or degrees of citizenship and that the citizenship of a woman is somehow less than that of a man. Such thinking must be relegated to the annals of history. It can have no place in a modern Bahamas.”
Madam President, should these bills achieve support from three-quarters of the members of this Senate they will go to the people. In a referendum to change the Constitution, the people have the final word.
At every stage in our nation’s history, women played a critical role. From the Burma Road Riots to Suffrage to Majority Rule to Independence – women have been there every step of the way, fighting for our nation’s progress. I believe that Bahamians know this truth deeply, in their hearts, and so I believe Bahamians are ready to give our sons and daughters equal rights under the law. I look forward to celebrating when Bahamians from all walks of life, young and old, come together to take this step forward for our nation.