Parliamentary debate on proposed amendments to the Constitution was delayed yesterday, after Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis requested additional time to review and discuss the matter with his colleagues.
“We would still like to have meetings with our constituents so that they would be sufficiently informed. We would do that as quickly as possible,” he said.
Leader of Government Business in the House of Assembly Dr. Bernard Nottage supported the move, adding that while the plan was to proceed with the debate on Wednesday, “we have to get it right.”
“Last week when we were here, we got the impression that there would be unanimity of support of the bills and if there are questions that still need to be answered then we are fully supportive of giving the time for that to take place. I was under the impression that we could achieve this by next week,” he said.
“I have indicated to the leader of the Opposition, that I think it will be useful for the Opposition and ourselves to get together during the course of this week so that we can fully understand what their concerns are and they can fully understand what our desire is.”
Prime Minister Perry Christie last week gave a snapshot of four key amendments to the Constitution, all essentially aimed at ending more than 40 years of discrimination against Bahamian women.
The first amendment seeks to grant a child born outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian mother and non-Bahamian father the same automatic rights to Bahamian citizenship; however, the prime minister said this only applies to a native born Bahamian parent.
Mr. Christie added that as a matter of administrative policy, the government will grant Bahamian citizenship to all applicants born abroad after July 9, 1973 to a Bahamian-born mother and non-Bahamian father before the law changes.
Another component is that a foreign male married to a Bahamian woman will be able to apply for Bahamian citizenship.
The third proposed change speaks to discrimination against men.
As it stands, an unwed Bahamian male cannot pass on his citizenship to a child born to a foreign woman, however this bill will require proof of paternity.
The final amendment seek to end discrimination based on sex making it unconstitutional to discriminate based on whether someone is male or female, however the prime minster said the existing exceptions will remain.
“In particular, this bill will not make same-sex marriages lawful, such unions are already treated as void under the Matrimonial Causes Act and the genesis of this particular legal position pre-dates the Independence Constitution,” Mr. Christie stressed at the time.
Once debated and passed in both houses of Parliament, the government will embark on an educational awareness campaign in the run up to a constitutional referendum on the issue.
That referendum is slated to take place on November 6.