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Referendum now in 2014

Vote will address gender discrimination
  • Prime Minister Perry Christie (right) and Leader of the Opposition Dr. Hubert Minnis share a moment during a service at St. Agnes Anglican Church to observe the 284th Anniversary of the Parliament of The Bahamas yesterday. At left is Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage. TORRELL GLINTON

Guardian Staff Reporter

Published: Oct 03, 2013

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Prime Minister Perry Christie announced in the House of Assembly yesterday that a constitutional referendum scheduled for next month has been postponed to next year.

Christie said the referendum will now take place before the end of June after a public education campaign.

Originally, he had promised the referendum will take place by June 2013.

He said yesterday the government hopes to “amend the citizenship provisions of the constitution to achieve full equality between men and women with respect to the acquisition and transmission of Bahamian nationality”.

He said the government also proposes to expand the definition of discrimination in Article 26 of the constitution to “include discrimination based on sex as a prohibited ground so that women would be able to enjoy the same level of protection from discrimination that men already enjoy”.

“As far as the projected timeline for this first round of constitutional reform is concerned, it is now anticipated firstly that the amending bills would be introduced in the House of Assembly before the end of the year; secondly that the passage of the bills through both the House of Assembly and the Senate would be completed by the end of February 2014; and thirdly, that a referendum on the matter would be held throughout the nation no later than the end of June 2014, following an ample period for public education and discussion which will be led by the Constitutional Commission,” said Christie during the House of Assembly’s afternoon sitting.

Christie outlined six items that will have to be enshrined in the amending bills to bring about gender equality under the Bahamian constitution.

Those six items include recasting the citizenship provisions of the constitution in gender neutral language; giving a Bahamian woman married to a non-Bahamian the same constitutional right to pass her Bahamian citizenship to her child at birth irrespective of whether the child is born abroad or in The Bahamas; giving a Bahamian woman’s foreign spouse the ability to obtain citizenship; giving a Bahamian man who fathers a child to a foreign woman outside of marriage the same right as a Bahamian woman, to pass citizenship to that child, subject to his proving paternity; adding the word “sex” to the definition of “discriminatory” in Article 26 of the constitution so as to make it unlawful to discriminate against any person based on sex; and ensuring that a proviso be added to make it clear that such an amendment would not overturn the legal prohibition against same-sex marriages.

Christie said it should be clear that any amendment to Article 26 to outlaw gender discrimination should not be construed so as to legalize same-sex marriages.

A three quarters majority of the members of each house, the House of Assembly and the Senate, would be required to pass the amending bills.

“After that, assuming of course that the bills are carried in each House with the requisite majority, the bills would then have to be submitted to the electorate for approval by a simple majority vote in a constitutional referendum,” he said.

“My government again having had the benefit of consultations with the leader of the opposition and member of Parliament for Killarney (Dr. Hubert Minnis), does not propose that there should be any additional items included in this first round of constitutional amendment.

“The referendum would therefore be limited to specific items I have just laid out.”

A referendum held in 2002 asked voters, among other things, if they wanted to remove constitutional discrimination against women.  The majority of voters rejected the referendum questions.

The Progressive Liberal Party supported the 2002 referendum in the House of Assembly but later urged voters to vote no.  It said the process was flawed.

The current Constitutional Commission presented its report to the government in early July.  The document, which contained 73 recommendations, was released after nine months of meetings across the country.

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