House Communication by
Dr. The Hon. Bernard J. Nottage, Member for Bain & Grants Town delivered on October 8th:
The Government had every expectation that this morning we would be proceeding to the committal, third reading and passage of the four constitutional bills that are now before this honourable house. Regretfully, however, these final stages must again be deferred for the moment.
In this regard, the Government was advised by the Constitutional Commission late last week that several additional members of the Opposition had indicated that they were no longer prepared to support bill # 4 unless the words “at birth” were added to the definition of “sex” as meaning “male or female”. One member of the Opposition had previously indicated that this was his position but late last week at least two other Opposition members indicated that they were now taking the same position as well.
We, in the Government, are concerned that with three – and we understand it may possibly be four – members of the Opposition no longer prepared to support bill # 4 in its present form, we find ourselves in a position where, even if bill # 4 were to pass in this honourable house with the requisite three-fourths majority, as it almost certainly still would, the public perception would nonetheless be created that the Opposition was seriously divided on the issue if close to half its House members were to vote against it. By extension, the bi-partisanship that had been promised by the Leader of the Opposition when he made his Communication to this honourable House on the introduction of the bills would be very much in jeopardy.
Ordinarily, the adoption of such a position by the Opposition would not be a problem but solid, bi-partisanship is essential to the ultimate success of the four constitutional bills in a national referendum, and the Government has always made this clear.
On the question as to whether the Opposition members who have taken this position can be accommodated by adding the words “at birth” to the definition of “sex” as meaning male or female”, the Government has now been informed that having considered the matter afresh, the Constitutional Commission is NOT prepared to recommend that the words “at birth” be added.
However, the Commission has indicated a very strong desire to meet with the Opposition members in question – and also with the two Government backbenchers who previously expressed similar concerns about bill # 4 – with a view to explaining the Commission’s position in detail, and with a view to possibly persuading the members concerned as to why the addition of the words “at birth” would not be desirable. In this regard, the Commission has advised that it is very firmly of the view that the addition of the words ” at birth”, far from strengthening the prohibition of same sex marriages under the Matrimonial Causes Act, would actually weaken the prohibition and leave it open to constitutional challenges of a kind that are presently precluded under the savings provisions of the Constitution. In sum, the Commission feels very strongly that if one is against same sex marriage then one should not advocate a constitutional amendment that ironically would have the unintended result of making it easier to challenge the existing prohibition than is presently possible.
The Government would wish to allow the Commission to pursue the initiative of meeting with the members concerned for the purpose that I have outlined to see whether substantial unity can be achieved on the matter.
in the meantime, the bills which all hang together (with bill #4 as the foundational bill) will be held in abeyance. Hopefully, by the time Parliament resumes after the recess, the problem will have been rectified to the satisfaction of all
Also in the meantime, public education on the bills will continue under the guidance of the Constitutional Commission. An ambitious programme in this regard is already underway across the nation under the joint co-ordination of retired Supreme Court Justice, Mrs. Rubie Nottage, and former FNM cabinet minister, Mrs. Theresa Moxey-Ingraham. This programme will continue uninterrupted as the Government and, I believe, the leadership of the Opposition as well, remain committed to the present constitutional reform exercise.
I conclude by reiterating the Government’s determination to do all that it can, in the context of the spirit of bipartisanship, to ensure that something as fundamental as equality between men and women can be instituted as a integral part of our constitutional framework within the shortest possible time.
We, in the Government, therefore, remain fully in support of the four constitutional bills, and we look forward to working with a united Opposition to ensure the passage of these bills in the very near future.