Why “Save our Bahamas” won’t save our Bahamas

It’s been a long time since I posted to this blog. That is not because I haven’t been writing though. In fact, my topic today has kept me busy for pretty much two years now: our Constitution and the need to amend it. It’s kept me so busy that I wrote – and had published – two journal articles on the subject: “Citizenship as a Fundamental Right: How the Bahamian Constitution Mis-imagines the Nation” (IJBS 2015) and “Bahamian-ness as an Exclusive Good: Attempting to Change the Constitution, 2002” (IJBS 2016).

Opponents of the referendum currently scheduled for June 7, 2016, will have us believe that, in principle, they agree that women and men should enjoy the same constitutional rights in the Bahamas. Compared to 2002, that is progress. Yet they attack the proposals, by making emotional appeals to the widespread homophobia in the Bahamas.

Sadly, the media as well as the political leadership engage them in this discussion. However, this only fans the flames further. This discussion is non-sensical, and should not be given room in the current debate.

The current proposals are far from perfect, and while they will remove some constitutional equality, they will retain other elements of inequality – and they will even introduce new elements of discrimination to our Constitution. This is a debate we should be having. This is the debate I had hoped to encourage through my articles above. However, the noise of SOB’s* sobs drowns out any intelligent debate.

The currently proposed amendments do not pose the threat they are made out to be. What it boils down to is that misogynists in 2016 are simply too afraid to openly admit to being misogynists. But if the amendments do not pose the threat they are made out to be, then there is nothing that “Save Our Bahamas” can save the Bahamas from.

Here is my suggestion to Parliament on how to overcome the current dilemma of having a constitutional referendum about equal rights for women and men derailed by a proxy debate about same-sex marriage:

As both the Prime Minister as well as the Constitutional Commission have pointed out, the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1879 defines marriage in the Bahamas as a union between one woman and one man. As they have also pointed out, the Constitution allows marriage laws in the Bahamas to be discriminatory. As they have also pointed out, if furthermore allows laws passed prior to independence to be discriminatory. As they have also pointed out, it does not require a politically cumbersome referendum with an unknown outcome to change the Matrimonial Causes Act. A simple Act of Parliament could bring same-sex marriage to the Bahamas. It could easily do so before June 7, 2016.

Thus, I call upon the Prime Minister, the House of Assembly and the Senate to immediately pass legislation to allow for same-sex marriage in the Bahamas. Not only is it the right thing to do anyway, but this will demonstrate to the Bahamian electorate in general and the SOBs in particular that the upcoming referendum has nothing to do with same-sex marriage. It should then either make equal rights for women and men under our constitution a non-issue – or force the misogynists to admit to their misogyny.

* Their chosen abbreviation, not mine.

Consequences of Losing the Supermajority

With the resignation of Andre Rollins (MP Fort Charlotte) from the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), which follows on the footsteps of the resignation of Greg Moss (MP Marco City) from the same, the governing party has lost its supermajority in the House of Assembly. Considering that the party only received 48.7% of the popular vote in the last election, that may be a democratic improvement in the composition of Parliament, but it does constitute one fundamental challenge: the PLP MPs can no longer pass Constitutional Amendment Bills without the support of opposition or independent members. Let us remember that four of them are currently “stuck in committee” in the House.

One way out of this dilemma for the PLP would be to replace the non-voting Speaker Kendal Major (MP Garden Hills) with an independent or opposition MP as Speaker of the House. This would, given the current count, restore the PLP’s supermajority. However, this may only be a temporary solution, for many Bahamians have long suspected – and these suspicions are growing daily – that Renward Wells (MP Bamboo Town) is pondering a move similar to Moss and Rollins. If he resigned, too, the PLP’s supermajority would be history regardless.

If the Prime Minister is serious about gender equality, and serious about constructing his legacy as the man who brought about constitutional reform to this effect, now may be the time to make this constitutional reform effort truly non-partisan. This would require him and the rest of the PLP to engage in a genuine conversation with the opposition; this would require them to take seriously the flaws which have been pointed out in the existing draft bills. This could potentially make the bills – and thus his legacy – stronger. This would also require him to apologise.

Perry Christie is, after all, the man who led the charge against constitutional reform for gender equality in 2002. The bills now are not new, they are but the reheated, toted lunch in a Styrofoam container of what he campaigned against back then. Right now, his legacy is that of the man who blocked gender equality by sabotaging a referendum. He needs to swallow his pride, admit his mistake, apologise to all those who were alienated by his actions in 2002. Then, and only then, could he pave the way for reconciling divided parties on this issue, and he could build a legacy of a man not ashamed to admit to and correct his mistakes.

However, I suspect that the proposed Constitutional Amendment Bills have always been less about gender equality and more about legacy building. I fear that stubborn pride may blind the Prime Minister to see the above as a viable option. This leaves one more scenario for gender equality during his current term: forget about it. This might leave his pride intact, and in his imagination it may not even negatively affect his legacy, which at this time primarily exists in his imagination anyway. This will, however, continue to treat women as second-class citizens, signalling to the rest of the world that the Bahamas is not yet ready to join it in the twenty-first century.