Prime Minister Christie announces June 7th 2016 as the date for the Referendum
Remarks by The Rt. Hon. Perry G.
Christie Prime Minister Commonwealth of The Bahamas at the Launch of the
YES Bahamas Campaign
“Equal Rights for our Sons and
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Harry C. Moore Library
College of The Bahamas:
It is my
very great pleasure to be here today in order to welcome -- with excitement and
with gratitude -- Lady Sharon Wilson and Lynn Holowesko, as the official
Co-Chairs of the YES Bahamas Campaign.
out at this room and I see people from all of the nation’s political parties,
happy and excited to work together in service of this great cause – and it
underscores for me the importance of what is at stake. All of us here today are
in full agreement that some things are bigger than politics - equal rights for
our sons and daughters certainly meets that standard.
he couldn’t be here today, I want to thank the Honourable Leader of the
Opposition, Dr. Minnis, for his unquestionable commitment to equal rights for
Bahamian citizens. He has worked with the Constitutional Commission, he and I
have sat with church leaders, and he worked with me to recruit the very
impressive Co-Chairs we are introducing today. I thank him for his resolve and
He and I
agree that the YES Bahamas Campaign must be one that brings Bahamians together.
Already, so many people have asked how they can help – we have heard from
students and teachers, mothers and fathers, leaders in the church, artists and
athletes, Bahamians from across our islands.
Bahamas Campaign will bring people together in common cause, and the Co-Chairs
who will run the campaign will bring their very considerable determination,
experience, and energy to this historic movement for change.
Sharon Wilson has been a teacher and a Chief Magistrate, runs one of the
nation’s leading law firms, and is currently serving as President of the
Senate. She is active in her church, the recipient of awards too numerous to
list here today, a member of multiple boards, and known for her considerable
philanthropic and charitable work.
Holowesko has served as a Senator and as President of the Senate, Chaired both
the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology Commission and the National
Trust, Co-Chaired a Panel of Experts on Environmental Law for the United
Nations, and is – clearly -- a very distinguished member of the Bahamian Bar.
words: these women are formidable and outstanding leaders! They have already
done so much to contribute to our country, but clearly they are not content to
rest on their laurels – their presence here today shows their deep patriotism
and their dedication to building a more just Bahamas. They will be supported by
an excellent team lead by former Senators Cheryl Bazzard and Heather Hunt who
will act as Co-Executive Directors. Both of these ladies represent the next
generation of outstanding leaders. Each in their own right continues to serve
our nation well.
all so much for bringing on board your enthusiasm and your expertise. I am
confident that under your leadership, the YES Bahamas Campaign will both
educate and inspire.
turn things over, I want to take a moment to outline how we arrived at this
moment – to put this referendum in context, and explain its purpose and
Bahamas Independence Order of 1973 was an Act of the British Parliament that
provided for The Bahamas to become an independent sovereign nation, and our
Constitution is an appendix to that Act. The 15 Bahamian men who attended a
Constitutional Conference in London in December of 1972 are known as the
Framers of our Constitution. To this day, the students in our schools learn of
their leadership and contributions.
created a Constitution which prevented Parliament from passing laws which would
discriminate based on race or creed or place of origin – but they did not
include sex – that is, they did not insert any language in the Constitution
which would prevent Parliament from passing laws which discriminate against men
referendum is simply about bringing our Constitution up to date to reflect our
shared values as a society. Men and women will always be different, and no law
or change to the Constitution could or should ever change that – in fact, we
our differences – but we do believe that as
citizens who share the
same responsibilities, the time has come for men and women, our sons and
daughters, to share the same rights.
this is a value shared by Bahamians because a long process of consultation has
led us to this moment. The Constitutional Commission, appointed in 2012, has
traveled far and wide throughout the country, holding town halls and meeting
with citizens. The Commission consulted not just widely but deeply, holding
extensive meetings with lawyers, academics, church leaders, and many other
citizens who wanted to share their views. I acknowledge in particular the very
substantial role that was played in the process by the late Dr. Myles Munroe,
the founder of Bahamas Faith Ministries. He and other Leaders met many times
with the Constitutional Commission and me. They gave excellent suggestions,
were very energetically involved, and very committed to seeing the Constitution
reformed so that men and women could achieve equal rights as citizens.
this month, the bills received overwhelming support in the House of Assembly,
and then passed unanimously in the Senate. So now they go to the people – and
this is a constitutional referendum, so the people’s word is final and binding.
Tuesday, June 7th, Bahamians will be asked to vote YES on four common sense
changes to our Constitution, so that Bahamian men and women are able to pass
citizenship to their families in the same way, and so that it will be
impossible for any future Parliament to pass laws discriminating against either
men or women.
I want to
be clear: these bills do not propose radical change. Instead, this is about
making sure that the supreme law of the land reflects our values and our
commitment to fairness.
proposed Amendment would allow children born abroad to obtain Bahamian
either their Bahamian father or mother, in those
circumstances where the other parent is not Bahamian. Right now, only Bahamian
men are entitled to pass their Bahamian citizenship to their children born
abroad in these situations.
amendment says: Bahamian mothers and their children should have the same rights
as Bahamian fathers and their children.
Two would enable a Bahamian woman who marries a non-Bahamian man to secure for
him the same ability to apply for Bahamian citizenship – following the same
steps, and subject to the same considerations – currently afforded to a Bahamian
man married to a non-Bahamian woman.
like to emphasize that
the second bill would NOT make citizenship
automatic for foreign husbands of Bahamian women, just as it is not
currently automatic for foreign wives. It merely grants those spouses the same
right to apply for citizenship, following the same very long process.
nothing easy or quick or convenient about becoming a citizen this way – the
process typically takes more than 10 years, and involves interviews and
inspections to ensure the marriage is legitimate.
officers are given the same investigative powers as police officers as they
determine whether a marriage is legitimate. And as of 2015, it is now a
act to participate in a fraudulent marriage, punishable by a fine or jail
amendment two is designed only to help
real Bahamian families, and its
purpose is to give Bahamian women the same rights as Bahamian men.
Amendment Three would correct that provision in our Constitution
that currently discriminates against
men. The change would mean that an
unmarried Bahamian man could pass on his Bahamian citizenship to a child
fathered with a non- Bahamian woman, if he is able to prove by DNA evidence
that he is the father. This right currently belongs only to women.
ready for a Constitution that supports fathers who want to keep their children
Amendment Four would update Article 26 of the Constitution, so
that it would become unconstitutional for Parliament to pass any laws that
discriminate based on sex, which is defined as “male or female”.
have been some questions about the intent and the possible effects of this
change. The purpose of this amendment is
only to ensure that Bahamian
men and women are equal under the law.
going to emphasize that in The Bahamas, by
law – under the Matrimonial Causes Act -- marriage must
be between a man and a woman, and this amendment
will not change that.
the lawyers who drafted the language of the amendment went out of their way to
protect traditional marriage, by defining “sex” as meaning “male or female”.
The language is clear, and the intent of Parliament – which any future court is
likewise obliged to consider – is also crystal clear.
And I am
advised that there have been NO cases in Commonwealth countries like ours, with
a Westminster-style Constitution, in which the right to non- discrimination on
the basis of sex led to a judicially-created right to same-sex marriage.
this referendum will not cause same-sex marriage to become legal in The
Bahamas. Marriage in The Bahamas will be legal only if it is between a man and
a woman, and male and female are determined at birth.
I am so
emphatic because it is so important for Bahamians to vote on what is really at
stake – equal rights for our sons and daughters – and not let false rumours or
incorrect information hold sway.
referendum does not seek to change Bahamian society or our traditional values –
instead it seeks to change the Constitution so that it more clearly reflects
those values, and our shared belief in fairness.
with full confidence, with immense gratitude, and with great anticipation --
the baton is passed – to these very distinguished Co-Chairs, and to the many
Bahamians who believe in equal rights.
the coming weeks will see a great celebration, an outpouring of support from
those who are excited to make history, and in particular, the involvement of
first-time voters, who have become eligible to vote since the previous
Bahamas Campaign will be relying on Bahamians young and old for their
creativity and enthusiasm, visiting each of our islands, and providing
information to Bahamians on each of the amendments. And the Constitutional
Commission will continue a very intense schedule of information sessions, which
will also be held across the islands, where Bahamians can ask their questions
in person and receive answers and information from legal experts.
carrying out this work the Commission will continue to operate independently
and with neutrality. Its job is to educate not to advocate for a Yes or No
I want to
share a conversation I had recently with an old-timer in my constituency. He
asked me about the referendum, and I explained it the way I’ve done so here
today. I’m not sure he was completely with me, though, until I asked him to
think about his grandchildren who were playing near us in the street. Did he
think that his grandsons and his granddaughters should have different rights as
Bahamian citizens? He was indignant at the very thought. He wants the best for
all his grandchildren – his dreams for the girls are no less grand than his
dreams for the boys. And so he agreed -- he wants them to grow up in a country
where they are equal under the law.
this gentleman will be voting YES on
June 7th, and that in this he will be
joined by Bahamians from all walks of life, across our beautiful islands.
Because there are moments to unite as a nation, moments when we come together
to do the right thing, and this is one of those moments.