Bahamas government to amend controversial referendum questions

Nassau, Bahamas — The Bahamas government has revised controversial constitutional referendum questions and is set to table them in Parliament, The Nassau Guardian has confirmed.

The questions no longer reference specific articles of the constitution.

The most notable change is to question four, which has garnered the most opposition.
According to sources, the amended question will read: “Do you approve of The Bahamas Constitution Amendment (no 4) Bill 2014.

“Under this proposed change to the constitution, it would be unlawful to discriminate based on sex, and ‘sex’ would be defined as meaning male and female.”

The question was amended to add the definition of the word sex in an effort to quiet the fears of those who have suggested that it could lead to legal challenges in support of same-sex marriages.

It is unclear if this amendment would be sufficient to satisfy those who voiced concern over the wording of the bill and its related question.

Among those who questioned the bill was opposition leader Dr Hubert Minnis.

The bill has also faced some opposition outside the House of Assembly.

Earlier this month, Bahamas Christian Council president Rev. Dr Ranford Patterson said he had concerns about the fourth bill.

The second constitutional amendment bill, which seeks to enable a Bahamian woman to pass on her citizenship to a foreign spouse, also attracted serious opposition.

Those who opposed that bill suggested that the wording of the question suggested that the bill sought to give the foreign spouse the automatic right to citizenship.

The question was changed to indicate that the foreign spouse would have to apply for that right in addition to meeting certain criteria.

The amended question reads: “Do you approve of the Bahamas constitution amendment number 2 bill 2014. Under this proposed change to the constitution, the foreign spouse of a Bahamian citizen would be able to apply for and obtain citizenship subject to satisfying 1, existing national security and public policy considerations and 2, new provisions guarding against marriages of convenience.”

Government officials have repeatedly explained that the process of granting citizenship is a gradual one that takes several years.

The Guardian understands that the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and the Free National Movement (FNM) caucuses met separately on Sunday to discuss the referendum as the parties try to get the process back on track.

There is some concern that a statement by opposition leader Minnis on the referendum process during debate on the bills last week hurt the equality movement.

“Today, the government finds itself in a quagmire, a web and complete mess [and is] trying to pull the opposition in with them,” Minnis charged in the House.

Minnis said constitutional amendment bills numbers two and three can be dealt with through legislation.

Bill number three would reverse the law that prohibits an unwed Bahamian man from passing his citizenship to his child if he or she is born to a foreign woman.

Minnis added that the fourth bill should be sent to committee in the House “so that it can be thoroughly discussed”.

When asked if Minnis’ contribution to the debate hurt the equality campaign, Constitutional Commission chairman Sean McWeeney said he believes that Minnis’ tone will change when Parliament met on Monday.

“I don’t blame the opposition at all,” said McWeeney when contacted on the issue yesterday.

“I don’t think they are doing [hurting the process]. I think Dr Minnis and his colleagues have had some honest disagreements with the government on the approach to the referendum. They have had honest differences of opinions of what should have been in the bills. I don’t fault them for that at all.

“…I think that the differences between the PLP and the FNM are going to be resolved. There is no question about that. I think by [Monday] you should see evidence of that.”

Prime Minister Perry Christie expressed disappointment in the House last Wednesday after Minnis withdrew the opposition’s full support to the measures that he had initially pledged.

Debate on the referendum was due to continue on Monday.

Proposed Amended Questions

1. Do you approve of the Bahamas Constitution Amendment Bill 2014? Under this proposed change to the constitution a child born outside of The Bahamas would become a Bahamian citizen at birth if either its mother or father is a citizen of The Bahamas by birth.

2. Do you approve of the Bahamas Constitution Amendment (no. 2) Bill 2014? Under this proposed change to the constitution, the foreign spouse of a Bahamian citizen would be able to apply for and obtain citizenship subject to satisfying 1, existing national security and public policy considerations and 2, new provisions guarding against marriages of convenience.

3. Do you approve of the Bahamas Constitution Amendment (no. 3) Bill 2014? Under this proposed change to the constitution a Bahamian father of a child born out of wedlock would be able to pass his citizenship to that child subject to legal proof that he is the father.

4. Do you approve of the Bahamas Constitution Amendment (no. 4) Bill 2014? Under this proposed change to the constitution, it would be unlawful to discriminate based on sex, and “sex” would be defined as meaning male and female.

Current Questions

1. Do you approve of this Bill, the Bahamas Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2014, which seeks to

(a) alter Article 8 of the constitution to enable a child born outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian mother who was born in The Bahamas to automatically become a citizen of The Bahamas at birth just as a child would be born outside of The Bahamas to a Bahamian father; and

(b) repeal Article 9 consequentially

2. Do you approve of this Bill, The Bahamas Constitution Amendment (no. 2) Bill, 2014, which seeks to alter Article 10 of the constitution to enable the foreign husband of a Bahamian woman to have the same constitutional right to obtain citizenship as a foreign wife of a Bahamian male but subject to ensuring that the marriage in question is not a marriage of convenience or that the foreign person in question has never been convicted in any country of an indictable offence involving moral turpitude.

3. Do you approve of this Bill, The Bahamas Constitution Amendment (no. 3) Bill, 2014, which seeks to alter Article 14 of the constitution to enable the Bahamian father of a child born outside of marriage to pass his citizenship to that child just as an unmarried Bahamian woman can presently do but subject to proof of paternity?

4. Do you approve of this Bill, The Bahamas Constitution Amendment (no. 4) Bill, 2014, which seeks to alter paragraphs 3 and 5 of Article 26 of the constitution by inserting the word “sex” in the definition of the expression “discriminatory” as to make it unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of sex but subject to the existing exceptions mentioned in paragraph 4 of Article 26?

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