February 28, 2013
Human rights activist Erin Greene yesterday called the church a "special interest group" that should not prevent the government from carrying out its obligation to its citizens and their right to same-sex marriage.
"For the church to think that they can define the entire institution of marriage according to their rules is dangerous and I think legally it is wrong," said Greene, who appeared before the Constitutional Commission.
Greene said the state's obligation to its citizens is different from the church's obligation to its parishioners.
"I also think it is important to note that the church, in this jurisdiction, is a non-governmental institution. It is a special interest group.
"And so, while members of the religious community, within their rights, are expressing a desire for the state institution to be defined according to their laws, the state has an obligation to communicate to the church that these two institutions are separate.
"...The state has an obligation to me, to ensure that as a citizen, I have equitable access to the benefits that it offers.
"If the state is offering special benefits to married people, then it should not prevent me from getting married because I have a right to share in that benefit if I want to."
Anglican Bishop Laish Boyd recently recommended that the constitution be amended to reflect that no one be discriminated against based on sexual orientation. But he too is opposed to same-sex marriage.
When Grace Community Church pastor Rev. Dr. Rex Major appeared before the commission last month, he said the constitution should define marriage as being between a man and woman.
Several other religious leaders have made that recommendation.
Greene, a spokesperson of the now disbanded Rainbow Alliance, said members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community frequently suffer discrimination because Bahamians seem unable to delineate between professional standards and personnel beliefs.
Greene said explicit provisions in the constitution preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation would create an environment where behavioral change among Bahamians is more likely to occur.
However, she agreed with certain marriage restrictions, such as preventing minors from marrying without consent of their parents, which she called "a very good law".
Greene expressed concern that the commission's referendum exercise could become "impotent" if the process is not properly handled.
She said it appears to have come from the growing pressure of the international community, instead of local agitation and activism.
"If the conversation that we have with the public is not engaged in that context -- that while a referendum exercise is about the local expression of the citizens, this exercise, as we're engaged now, is also about our participation in a wider community -- this exercise cannot achieve our real goal," she said.
Greene said the country could achieve good governance if the laws are a true reflection of the community's feelings and lifestyles.
She said the constitution should be amended to remove all forms of discrimination against women; provide food security and guarantee freedom of information.
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News date : 02/28/2013 Category : Nassau Guardian Stories