April 20, 2016
Bishop Neil Ellis, senior pastor at Mount Tabor Church, said yesterday it would be "unacceptable and un-Christ-like" to deny Bahamians rights by voting against any of the gender equality questions in the June 7 referendum.
"I believe my brothers and sisters, that these bills would finally bring The Bahamas in position with most of the rest of the world," Ellis said.
"To deny anybody rights in our country is unacceptable and un-Christ-like. I want to urge Bahamians all across our country to take a look at all four bills, get as much information as you can and seek to, one, make your statement, and two, make your decision based on information.
"Try to be enlightened. Try to be informed. Try to do the right thing that is required for our country to catch up with the rest of the world."
Ellis and several other prominent pastors of varied denominations held a press conference yesterday.
The pastors included Ellis, Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder, Anglican Diocesan Bishop Laish Boyd, Chairman of the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas Reverend Dr. William Thompson, Bishop Franklyn Ferguson of the Church of God of Prophecy, Pastor Ed Dorsett of East Street Gospel Chapel and Reverend Derrick Browne of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA).
They said while they do not represent any campaign, each stressed the importance of Bahamians supporting the bills, including question four, which would provide for a constitutional amendment prohibiting discrimination based on sex -- defined as "male or female".
The pastors urged Bahamians to seek out all the information they can to make an informed decision and "do the right thing".
Several other pastors announced the formation of a similar group called "Save Our Bahamas" over the weekend, urging Bahamians to reject the fourth question. That group is being led by Pastor Mario Moxey of Bahamas Harvest Church, Pastor Lyall Bethel of Grace Community Church, Rev. Alfred Stewart of New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church and popular talk show host Kevin "Minister K" Harris.
Those 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).
Boyd said with the greatest respect to those who oppose question four on the basis that it could open the doors to same-sex marriage, he "shudders" at the thought of people going to the polls and voting against the amendments.
"I cannot see how this can be so nor have I heard any argument that spells out how it can be so," said Boyd with respect to the fourth question.
"Having fears and concerns is one thing, but do we deny tens of thousands their rights based on 'what ifs'? I do not think so. These amendments are about establishing gender equality and to equalize the means of transmitting citizenship. What the introduction of the talk about same-sex marriage does is have the effect of steering discussion into matters that simply do not arise."
Boyd said it would be an unfortunate reflection on "our Bahamian integrity" for the referendum to fail.
Pinder said some people feel the government ought to be "taught a lesson" over the 2002 referendum, but this would be a grave mistake.
"The time and forum for acting on such opinions [is] not this referendum," Pinder said. "To subvert the referendum in this way would be a misstep on a national and historic scale. This is a most important, indeed a solemn moment for us as a nation."
Ellis added that the 2002 referendum has left many people bitter. But he agreed this is not the time to teach the government a lesson as too much is at stake.
Supporters and members of Save Our Bahamas held a prayer vigil in Rawson Square on Monday night for success in their efforts.
Royston Jones Jr.
Guardian Staff Reporter
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