Communication by Prime Minister….
I should like to commend the people of The Bahamas for their participation in yesterday’s historic vote on gender equality.
Yesterday’s referendum was fair, transparent and open. And the result was certainly clear. The voice of the people has sounded in the land. It needs to be respected and honoured. And it will be.
It would be useful to recall how we arrived at the referendum because each important step of the way was founded on bipartisan consensus.
1. When the Government decided to appoint the Constitutional Commission, we advised the Leader of the Opposition that we wanted to appoint a non- partisan Commission to be chaired by Mr. Sean McWeeney, Q.C. and invited him to appoint a representative from the Opposition. He recommended the Hon. Carl Bethel, a former Attorney General, who agreed to serve.
2. When Carl Bethel was appointed to the Senate, he was replaced by the Hon. Theresa Moxey-Ingraham.
3. The Commission commenced consultations throughout the country including with all political parties, civil society and Church Leaders including the President of the Christian Council.
4. Further, many consultations with Church Leaders took place in the Office of the Prime Minister with the Leader of the Opposition present.
5. In those meetings the Commission discussed the Bills to be presented in Parliament. The Church Leaders present were told by me in the presence of the Leader of the Opposition that they should see the presence of Dr. Minnis with me at the table in the Office of the Prime Minister as indicative of a bi- partisan and united approach to these matters of national importance.
6. This bi-partisanship and unity were of critical importance.
7. Ultimately, they were also aware that the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister issued statements in Parliament in full support of the process and that when the Bills came to Parliament we would support them.
8. The Bills were passed in both Houses of Parliament by the constitutionally required special majority.
9. In setting up the Government agreed to support a Yes Campaign on the basis that it would be a politically united effort.
10. Special effort was made to indicate bi-partisanship at all times. Lady Sharon Wilson and Mrs. Lynn Holowesko agreed to be Co-Chairs. They were supported by Attorney Cheryl Bazard and Mrs. Heather Hunt. Attorney Constance McDonald and Mrs. Geneva Rutherford were appointed in Grand Bahama. Similar joint PLP/FNM appointments were made in the islands of Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma.
I present this brief history for the purpose of acknowledging the magnificent contribution of all of these personalities so mentioned and the depth of our democracy.
I want to thank the Constitutional Commission, and note in particular the exemplary leadership of its Chairman, Sean McWeeney Q.C. The members of the Commission met for over a year, consulting widely with civil society, before submitting a report that provides a roadmap for constitutional reform for many years to come. The Public Education Committee of the Commission, Retired Justice Rubie Nottage, the Honorable Theresa-Moxey Ingraham (who was the FNM’s nominee), and Miss Brandace Duncanson traveled The Bahamas from one end to the next for over two years. They left no island unvisited and no question unanswered in their efforts to educate and elucidate. They really do deserve our collective thanks and praise for a job superbly done.
I also want to extend thanks to all those who fought the good fight – in particular: Co-Chairs and Co-Directors of the Yes Campaign:
Lady Sharon Wilson, Lynn Holowesko, Heather Hunt, Cheryl Bazard
Grand Bahama: Geneva Rutherford and Constance McDonald
Abaco: Kendi Anderson McPhee and Winsome Ferguson
Eleuthera: Audrea Scavella and Laurie Rolle
Exuma: Sophie Hart Rolle and Kenneth Nixon
Cat Island: Melanie Rahming and Ramona Taylor Ritchie
These leaders, representing a cross-section of the political spectrum believed that they were working for a righteous cause. I’m particularly appreciative of the courageous role that Lynn Holowesko, Heather Hunt and Geneva Rutherford played in this noble effort. Although deeply committed FNM’s, they were able to set this partisan allegiance aside so that they could join with their PLP sisters in an effort to build a better and fairer Bahamas for all our sons and daughters.
In this same vein, I would also like to publicly commend the Member for Long Island for the consistency of her commitment to the cause for gender equality. She stood her ground and fought the good fight.
I also commend the female leaders on my side, including female members of Cabinet who fought valiantly as well.
I also want to thank our former Governors-General and Founding Fathers, Sir Arthur Foulkes and Sir Orville Turnquest, for sharing their voices in support of the cause for male-female equality that lay at the heart of the referendum.
I hope you will all join me, too, in extending my appreciation to all who played an honest and sincere part in the public discourse of the constitutional bills, including the media and the leaders of the religious community. They deserve our thanks for their contribution to the vibrancy of our democracy.
I will never stop believing that our sons and daughters deserve equal rights in our Constitution and equal treatment under our laws.
We believe that when the dust clears, there will be room and time for proper reflection. Although yesterday’s rejection of the gender equality bills is clearly a setback for the programme of constitutional reform, it is by no means an end to it.
Instead the programme of constitutional reform must continue. How, when and in what form it will continue will be the subject of further consultations with my Cabinet, the Constitutional Commission, the Opposition and civil society.
In the meantime, in the wake of the vigorous and fractious debate that we have just come through, we must now find ways to bridge our differences as we continue our struggle for a better and brighter future for all our people.