Communication in the Senate
I have spoken to several Ministers of Religion since last week when my colleagues in the House of Assembly were given less than 24 hours Notice that this Bill was to be debated, the next day. Not one of the Ministers of Religion with whom I spoke (and some of them included heads of denominations) was aware of the content of this Bill. Not one had read this Bill nor had the Bill been made available to them for comment.
As of this morning I could not find this Bill on line, nor could any of the Marriage Officers with whom I have been speaking.
I know that in 2006 the Bahamas Christian Council was opposed to the cruise ship marriages. They told me so.
I have spoken to members of the Christian Council. They are not aware of the content of the Bill and they are concerned that they were not advised nor consulted about the content of this Bill.
The manner in which this Bill is being dealt with can be considered stealthy or sneaky.
a) Ministers of Religion are not able to access this Bill on line nor has the Bill been made available to them so that they could assess its content and make their contribution.
b) Bahamian citizens are not able to access this Bill on line so that they could so as to assess its content and make their contribution.
c) Less than 24 hours Notice was given to MPs that the government would be proceeding with debate on the Bill. This short Notice did not give Members of Parliament time to consult their constituents on this matter that fundamentally impacts our way of life.
There is lack of transparency in this matter:
a) it is being done by stealth
b) This Bill is being brought forward in the name of the public by their representatives. The public has not been consulted on this matter fundamental to who we are as a people. We openly declare in our constitution that we have an abiding respect for Christian Values. Marriage is a Christian sacrament instituted by God, as well as a legal institution.
c) this lack of transparency is UNPATRIOTIC.
There are several fundamental grounds upon which I oppose this Bill.
Who is qualified to be a marriage officer
The Marriage Act contemplates that save in clearly defined circumstances a Marriage Officer in The Bahamas will be a Minister of Religion.
This Bill proposes a change to the Marriage Act so that Masters of a Bahamian ship may become a Marriage Officer and the second in command may become a provisional Marriage Officer. These ship officers are unlikely to be Bahamian and are unlikely to understand The Bahamas or our culture and way of life or share our Christian values.
It Devalues Marriage
The Preamble of our Constitution makes it clear that we Bahamians recognize that “our freedom will be guaranteed by …….. an abiding respect for Christian values…..”.
We as Christians believe that marriage and family are both ordained by God. We believe that they are the foundation of our society.
As a Cabinet Minister, I was responsible for licencing Marriage Officers. I know that the vast majority of our marriage officers are Christians. I know that most marriage officers are Ministers of Religion. I know that Marriage Officers of certain denominations will not marry anyone, even a visitor, unless they are satisfied that the candidates for marriage have had counseling and proper preparation for marriage. I believe that most Bahamian marriage officers will not marry anyone whom they believe is not a suitable candidate for marriage. I know Bahamian marriage officers who have refused to marry people because they believed that the candidates were not ready for marriage.
I believe that these steps are taken by Bahamian marriage officers because they believe in the sanctity of marriage. They believe that marriage is the foundation of our society.
I believe that it is highly unlikely that the Captain of a Bahamian registered ship, will bother to satisfy himself that the candidates are prepared for the responsibility of marriage. Indeed, he probably would not even care whether or not they are ready for marriage, so long as they have paid the requisite fee to his bosses. For him it is simply and solely a commercial matter.
I am deeply concerned that we are devaluing marriage by moving away from our conviction that “marriage is a way of life that all should reverence; and therefore, it must not be entered into carelessly, selfishly or wantonly but responsibly, honestly and after serious thought and prayer.” (Book of Common Prayer)
Does this Bill Change The Bahamas’ concept of Marriage?
The Bill defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife”.
As that is already the law in The Bahamas one would have thought that is not necessary to restate the law.
I draw your attention to Form A which is embodies in the Second Schedule to the Bill. It is headed “Notice of Intended Marriage”. That Form A asks the question, “gender at birth” of both intended parties to the marriage.
What does gender at birth mean? I can not find the word “gender” in the Marriage Act. The Ministers of Religion whom I have consulted and I ask does it mean that someone who was born female and who has had sex change surgery so as to appear male can marry someone born female?
If that is the case, is that a homosexual marriage?
These questions are critical. I repeat, I can’t find the word “gender” in our Marriage Act.
These Ministers of Religion and I ask do we in The Bahamas knowingly want to countenance the possibility of “transgender marriage” in The Bahamas? Is this the thin edge of the wedge? Is this an unnatural marriage? Is this a gay marriage? Or, is that the next step?
If that couple (a transgender couple) is married on the High Seas under Bahamian law, what will be the position of the Bahamian Courts when they come to The Bahamas to enforce their legal rights in a marriage dispute?
Parliamentary democracy means that elected representatives represent the people. They bring legislation to Parliament in the name of the people. It means that when something as fundamental as marriage, such as
– how it is conducted
– by whom it is conducted
– what it means
is to be changed, there is to be wide and extensive consultation WITH THE PEOPLE.
There has been no such consultation in relation to this Bill.
Before I close this section of my presentation I want to ask the government to refute the concern that this Bill was drafted by the people in the cruise ship industry and presented to the government to be passed.
Another FNM Assault on Bahamian Entrepreneurs
This Bill is an assault on the Destination Marriage business in The Bahamas.
At the moment, people who wish to get married in The Bahamas must spend a minimum of 24 hours in The Bahamas (subject to certain exceptions).
Those involved in the Destination Marriage business advise me that the usual stay for a Destination Marriage is 3 nights. This normally means 3 nights in a hotel for the wedding party and guests.
It also means:-
– business for a Marriage Officer (some charge $1,000.00)
– business for wedding planners, hairdressers, make-up artists, limousine services, florists, wedding cake artists, and many other Bahamian businesses.
The downturn in tourism means that these persons are also experiencing a downturn in their business.
The last thing that these entrepreneurs expect is the government especially in the midst of these very difficult economic times to launch an assault on their struggling Bahamian businesses.
These Bahamian entrepreneurs have now joined:
1) The businesses on East Street South, Market Street, Blue Hill Road, Robinson Road and Prince Charles Drive, who have been assaulted by the FNM government because of the road works;
2) The Bahamian road contractors who have been assaulted by the FNM government who gave the IDB road work to an Argentinean contractor;
3) The Bahamians in the restaurant and entertainment business who have been assaulted by the FNM government, who, without notice to them or consultation with Bahamians, changed the Investment Policy so that non-Bahamians could directly compete with Bahamians in sectors previously totally reserved for Bahamians.
4) others who feel the attitude of their government that conveys “Bahamians need not apply”.
Cruise Ships are Taking Business Away from Destination Marriages
I have heard government members say that the people who would choose to get married on a cruise are not the same market as those who would overnight in The Bahamas in a hotel. This is totally, absolutely and utterly inaccurate.
I invite Members of this Senate as well as all Bahamians to Google “Cheap Bahamas Cruises”. You will see that it is possible to get a 4 night Bahamas Cruise for $189.00.
It is not possible to fly round trip to The Bahamas from anywhere on the East Coast of the U.S.A. for $189.00. Yet, it is possible to get a 4 night all inclusive (food and wine, lodging and entertainment) cruise for $189.00. Now our government wants to allow the cruise ship passenger to choose a Bahamian marriage from the “A La Carte Menu”!
When planning a wedding, price is a significant factor. Clearly, if it is cheaper to take a cruise package, than to fly to The Bahamas and stay in a hotel, that is what will happen.
I’ve also heard that the cruise lines have threatened that if we don’t pass this Bill they will no longer cruise to The Bahamas.
I don’t accept that threat as a real possibility.
In any event, I believe that rather than the government capitulating to this threat, if it was made, the principled democratic stance would have been to take the matter to the Bahamian people.
Are Bahamians prepared to lose the cruise ship business? Will Bahamians stand fast for marriage to be a union between a male at birth and a female at birth?
Are Bahamians prepared to entertain the possibility of transgender marriages? Are Bahamians prepared to entertain the possibility of unnatural marriages? Are Bahamians prepared to entertain the possibility of gay marriages?
Is a transgender marriage a gay marriage?
Madame President this Bill attacks the foundation of our society, marriage and family.
It also attacks struggling Bahamian businesses.
There has not been widespread public consultation in relation to the matters raised in this Bill.
There are real and serious questions as to whether this Bill may possibly recognize and make lawful in The Bahamas transgender marriages, unnatural marriages and gay marriages.
There is a real question as to whether the FNM, by this Bill, is surreptitiously sneaking through the back door what it can not do through the front door.
I call upon colleagues today, during the week of our Independence Celebrations, to honour our Constitution and in particular our commitment to Christian values and the Rule of Law.
I call upon Members in this place, the Senate, to exercise their power to reject this Bill and to send it back to the other place for proper consultation, consideration and clarity.