April 18, 2016
From left are Pastor Lyall Bethel of Grace Community Church and Pastor Mario Moxey of Bahamas Harvest Church during a press conference at Grace Community Church yesterday. (Photo: Torrell Glinton)
Several pastors who led the 'Vote No' campaign ahead of the 2013 gambling referendum have formed a similar group called "Save Our Bahamas" and are urging Bahamians to reject the fourth question on the June 7 referendum, which would provide for a constitutional amendment prohibiting discrimination based on sex -- defined as "male or female".
"The reason why we're focused on bill number four is because we feel that it opens the door to same-sex marriage, and as a result of that, this is a moral issue as such. And because it is a moral issue, we feel that it's important for the church to voice their concern, and so that is what we are doing," said Pastor Mario Moxey of Bahamas Harvest Church.
Parliament passed four constitutional referendum bills several weeks ago, paving the way for the long-delayed referendum.
Moxey, Pastor Lyall Bethel of Grace Community Church, Rev. Alfred Stewar of New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church and popular talk show host Kevin "Minister K" Harris, spoke to The Nassau Guardian on Saturday, and held a press conference at Grace Community Church yesterday.
The new committee is also asking the government to fund its vote no campaign.
"Seeing that the government has appointed the yes vote campaign, in all fairness in our democratic nation, the Save Our Bahamas campaign will be delivering a letter to the Office of the Prime Minister requesting an initial seed funding of $100,000 to assist the vote no campaign in delivering its message," the group said in a press statement.
The pastors are lobbying for a fifth bill, which would provide for a constitutional provision defining marriage as being between a man (who was born male) and a woman (who was born female).
Members of Save Our Bahamas find it curious that the government failed to adopt recommendation 25 of the report of the Constitutional Commission, headed by former Attorney General Sean McWeeney.
Recommendation 25 is closely related to recommendation 24, found on page 37 of the commission's report, presented to Prime Minister Perry Christie in 2013.
At 24, the commission recommends that "sex" be included in the definition of "discriminatory" in Article 26(3) as one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination.
Recommendation 25 states, "As a corollary to the recommendation at 24, the commission also proposes that an amendment be made to Article 26(4) to provide that no law which makes provisions prohibiting same-sex marriage or which provides for such marriages to be unlawful or void shall be held to be inconsistent with the constitution".
"I think one of the reasons we need to sound the alarm on that question is due to the fact that the government has ignored the expressed wishes of the Bahamian people to provide a clause in the constitution that would protect marriage as we know it today as a union between a man and a woman," Stewart said.
Bethel added, "The reason that they gave for making the recommendation was the effect of this would be to preclude any constitutional challenges to such a law based on alleged discrimination on the grounds of sex, and makes the position clear that same-sex marriages are not permitted under our constitution and current laws.
"So now, if you had that recommended to you in the constitutional report, why did you pull out one thing and not realize without recommendation 25, you're going to have the same problem that plagued the Constitutional Commission as they went from island to island across this great nation of ours, because the number one issue was always we don't want same-sex marriage being forced on this country.
"And so if you know -- and this has been postponed four times all because of this one perception -- why not kill the perception? Bring in recommendation 25."
Moxey said it is important for Bahamians to be concerned about the likely impact of question four because the global trend has been moving in the direction of legalizing same-sex marriage.
"...[With] just a casual investigation, you would discover that many of the nations that have same-sex marriage have done it through legislation, but it has been done in very heated environments and amidst incredible protests," he said.
"So many of the leaders now are going the path of rather than legislation to go through the judicial system i.e. to create gaps in the law that provide individuals to challenge the law, take it court and then have the judges rule in favor of same-sex marriage."
The pastors believe that question four as is, has the potential to sink the entire referendum effort.
"I'm almost certain of it and it was felt that if they wanted to bring in gender equality, they should have certainly safeguarded it by putting in bill number five -- marriage should be construed as understood to be a covenant between one man and one woman who are male and female biologically in the constitution," Bethel said.
Harris pointed out that McWeeney previously indicated that the entire referendum effort hinges on bill number four.
"I think when comments like that were taken into the public domain, Bahamians became very suspicious and they were already having another challenge, which I think is going to be problematic for the entire referendum," he said.
"You remember the gambling referendum, and the matter of trust and the matter of credibility, and people really just felt that it really was a betrayal of trust."
the regulation of web shops and the establishment of a national lottery.
The government ignored the will of the people in that referendum and regulated web shops anyway.
Though the June 7 referendum is a constitutional referendum and its results cannot be changed, the pastors believe the government's previous actions will harm its efforts in the coming poll.
Speaking of bill number four, McWeeney told The Guardian on Saturday, "I think it's the most fundamental of the four bills in the sense that this is the bill that enshrines the principle of equality between men and women under the law. That's all bill number four is about, end of story."
Seeking to address concerns some people have with question four, Prime Minister Perry Christie said during the launch of the 'YES Bahamas' campaign last week that the purpose of this amendment is only to ensure that Bahamian men and women are equal under the law.
"I am 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," he said.
"In fact, 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."
The prime minister said, "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 rumors or incorrect information hold sway".
Members of Save Our Bahamas said while they will encourage theircongregants to vote against question four, they will urge them to vote their conscience on the other three questions.
Question one seeks to enable a child born outside The Bahamas to become a citizen at birth if either his or her mother or father is a citizen of The Bahamas by birth.
Question two seeks to enable a foreign man married to a Bahamian woman to secure the same access to Bahamian citizenship that a foreign woman married to a Bahamian man enjoys.
Question three would allow an unmarried Bahamian man to pass on his citizenship to his child born to a foreign mother in The Bahamas subject to legal proof that he is the father.
The pastors have planned a Prayer in the Square (Rawson) on Monday night. They will also hold a pastors forum on Thursday to address issues related to question four.
"It's a matter of chess moves and how you play this game in order to be successful," Moxey said.
Guardian Managing Editor
Click here to read more at The Nassau Guardian