By BRADLEY B. ROBERTS
PROGRESSIVE LIBERAL PARTY
As Bahamians head to the polls on Tuesday, June 7 in a landmark Constitutional Referendum, I beseech them all to do so with the seriousness of our numerous freedom fighters; those in the labour movement, the suffragettes and our founding fathers who led us to independence in 1973 in the pursuit of equality and social justice. Bahamians are reminded and are asked to consider the fact that since the march to independence, no change in legislation or to our Constitution was approached with the level of detail, range of consultation and broad based educational program.
I also offer the following propositions for their sober consideration.
The idea of a hidden agenda is crazy. Just as there was no hidden agenda during the Burma Road Riots and the birth of the labour movement, Black Tuesday, the women’s Suffrage Movement, Majority Rule and Independence, there is no hidden agenda with this equality referendum as we make one more giant step in our democratic evolution. This generation is simply standing on the shoulders of those selfless giants and freedom fighters who blazed the freedom trail for this generation who are being called on to continue this great and noble work for freedom and equality.
The record clearly shows that the Constitutional Commission, which had members appointed by both political parties, worked for years to gain consensus and accommodate different views and concerns. They conducted literally hundreds of public meetings and information sessions before and after the bills passed in Parliament. This has been a transparent, inclusive and collaborative process from the beginning. Every answer and explanation offered in the education process was supported by provisions in the Constitution therefore there is nothing to hide and no place to hide it.
Religious leaders support all four of these bills. The top lawyers in our country worked carefully with the religious leaders in the Christian community to ensure that bill four would not change marriage, and as a result, bill four has the support of the leaders representing nearly 80% of the nation’s Christian community.
We agree that The Bahamas should not change just because other countries are changing. We are a small country, a Christian country, and our traditions and culture must be protected, no matter what is happening in other countries. Regardless of what the rest of the world decides to do, we must not have same-sex marriage in our country.
Former Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett and many of the nation’s most respected lawyers have said bill 4 gives new protections to our law that says marriage must be between a man and a woman. To continue to spread fear about same-sex marriage is not just to be wrong as a matter of law but reckless and irresponsible.
Ordinary laws cannot guarantee equal rights. When rights are important, you must protect them in the Constitution. Laws can change from day to day. Our daughters should have their rights where our sons have them – in the Constitution.
This referendum is not complicated – it is about making sure our sons and daughters are equal as citizens in this country. That’s it. If you vote NO, you are not voting against politicians or gay rights – none of that is on the ballot. If you vote NO, you are voting to have your daughters be second-class citizens in this country. You may think that’s OK – that’s your right. But at least be clear about what you’re doing.
This is not a game – this is about Bahamian families. Talk to the people around you and listen to their stories. There are fifth-generation Bahamian mothers whose children are not Bahamian because the babies were born abroad. There are grandmothers who want all their grandbabies to be Bahamian, no matter where they are born. There are children who feel left out and disadvantaged through no fault of their own. We hope people will listen to these voices with open hearts and minds. We hope Bahamians will recognize that these stories might be their own stories, or the stories of someone close to them, one day.
Let us vote YES on June 7 and ensure that the annals of history record that this generation was on the right side of history as they struck the proverbial blow for equality that will accrue benefits to future generations yet unborn. The freedom fighters and our founding fathers from past generations selflessly and sacrificially fought for the freedoms and rights we enjoy today and we owe it to them and future generations to do likewise.
The journey to a more perfect democratic commonwealth and the fight for freedom, social justice and equality continues.