In two days, polls will open for the constitutional referendum The Bahamas has been anticipating for four years. Following several postponements, the referendum is set for June 7, 2016 to give the Bahamian people, for the second time, the opportunity to remedy the constitutional inequality in the transference of citizenship between men and women and add “sex” to the prohibited grounds of discrimination.
Misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia have framed the conversation around the four constitutional amendment bills, stoking the fire of fear, glorifying intolerance, and prioritizing privilege over rights. This referendum also follows an opinion poll — framed as a referendum — wherein the government acted against the will of the people. The exercise, as a result, is being approached with caution born of mistrust and uncertainty.
Equality Bahamas ran an on-the-ground educational campaign including guest lectures and training sessions at College of The Bahamas, private sessions for groups of four to 100 people, production of print material, an art activism event, talk show appearance, and newspaper editorials. Committed to education, empowerment, and equality, the primary focus of Equality Bahamas has been providing accurate information and encouraging people to vote with an understanding of the bills and gender equality.
At present, a Bahamian women married to a non-Bahamian man must give birth in The Bahamas for her child to have automatic citizenship. If her child is born outside of The Bahamas, application must be made between the ages of 18 and 21. Bahamian men, however, may automatically pass on citizenship to their children born in wedlock, regardless of their place of birth. If this bill passes, it would not be retroactive, so children born from 1998 to the date the bill is passed would have to make application under the Nationality Act of The Bahamas.
The spouses of Bahamian women are not currently allowed to apply for Bahamian citizenship while the spouses of Bahamian men have this right. If this bill passes, citizenship would not automatically be conferred. The process outlined by the Department of Immigration — including a five-year spousal permit and permanent residency — would be followed.
Bahamian men are not able to pass on citizenship to their children born out of wedlock. If this bill passes, men will be able to pass on Bahamian citizenship, and proof of paternity would be required before Bahamian citizenship is granted.
Current prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, place of origin, political opinion, color, and creed; not sex. If this bill passes, it will become unconstitutional for any law to discriminate on the basis of sex — with sex defined as “male or female” — except for the listed exceptions which include taxation, adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and devolution of property. This means the Matrimonial Causes Act which says a marriage is void when “the parties are not respectively male and female” is protected and may continue to discriminate on the basis of sex in this way.