Speaker of the House of Assembly Halson Moultrie said yesterday he is conflicted about the issue of marital rape, but leans toward the view that, spiritually, a husband cannot rape his wife.
Moultrie’s comments came a few days after he tabled a report called “The Criminalization of Marital Rape and Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Across the Commonwealth” completed by Equality and Justice Alliance, which promotes “modern, progressive laws”, like those promoting the rights of women and members of the LGBT community.
The report noted that The Bahamas has an international obligation to address the marital rape issue.
Moultrie said he was presented with the report during a recent conference in Saint Lucia where the matter was discussed extensively alongside other social issues faced by the region.
“I wouldn’t want a person to be able to abuse the privilege of being in a marital union to infringe on someone’s right to say no,” he said in an interview with The Nassau Guardian.
“But at the same time, when you compare that with the spiritual aspect of two becoming one and whenever a partner wishes to be accommodated sexually and so on, that the other partner really should comply.”
Moultrie added, “On the one end, as an ordained pastor, I look at the marriage union as being a sacred union where two become one. In that union, on occasions when one party may not even be in the mood, that union calls for the accommodation of the other’s desires, whether it be male or female.
“But when we compare that with the purely legal aspect of a person’s right to the privacy of their own body, then yes, legally, if someone resists or says ‘no’ and you still violate that decision, then yes, it can be considered to be rape, legally that is.”
Asked how he falls on the matter, Moultrie said he believes the spiritual interpretation is the “safest” one.
“I always prefer to lean with the spiritual aspect. I think that’s the safest way, because laws continuously change,” he said.
“Spiritual principles are forever; they don’t change.
“Laws change to accommodate society and to accommodate traditions and mischief in society.
“And so one day, the law might be that there’s a law against homosexuality, and then in modern society, people become more accommodating and accept that as a normal practice in society. And so, that law is repealed and same-sex marriage law may be the order of the day.
“But that does not change the spiritual principles with respect to that.”
The report Moultrie tabled last week singled out The Bahamas as one of four states in the Commonwealth “that do not have adequate legislation criminalizing marital rape and intimate partner sexual violence”.
The others are St. Lucia, Nigeria and Malaysia.
“In the case of The Bahamas and Saint Lucia, a historical attachment to the common law implied consent theory of sexual relations within marriage, coupled with resistance from religious leaders, means that both these states have gaps in their legislation that fail to provide women with access to justice or reparation,” the report read.
It pointed to a broader issue of constitutional discrimination against women in The Bahamas.
“Firstly, The Bahamas’ constitution allows for discrimination on the basis of sex under Article 26,” it read.
“There have been two referenda (2002 and 2016) to amend this discrimination but both attempts failed.
“Secondly, the state’s criminal law on marital rape typifies an historical attachment to the common law implied consent theory of sexual relations within marriage.
“Under Bahamian law, intimate partner sexual violence cannot be classified as marital rape or sexual assault where the perpetrator is the husband; a wife cannot make a complaint of rape even if she has been subjected to threat, coercion, or sexual violence.”
The report noted that while there were two proposed amendments to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act that would have been adequate in criminalizing marital rape, they have not progressed due to backlash.
“Both bills have been shelved amidst a perceived attack on the sanctity of marriage and religious and family values,” it read.
It added, “A 2015 report prepared by The Bahamas National Task Force For Gender-Based Violence cited the patriarchal ‘social norms and legal culture’ that ‘protect privacy and male dominance within the family at the expense of the safety of women’ as the reason why domestic legislation has not kept up with emerging international and regional human rights norms on the causes and consequences of violence against women, including marital rape.”
The report noted, “The Bahamas is, however, party to several other international and regional human rights treaties that require it to uphold the principle of the equality between men and women in its constitution and national legislation and to prevent and protect women from violence in both public and private spheres through legislative and other measures.”
The conference the speaker attended was hosted by Equality and Justice Alliance, Sisters for Change (an international NGO that works to combat violence against women and girls), and the St. Lucia Parliament.
The issue of marital rape resurfaced in late 2017, after United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Dubravka Simonovic said that The Bahamas is out of step with the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as it has failed to criminalize all forms of marital rape.
The Bahamas ratified the convention in October 1993.
In 2018, during an appearance before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the government intends to criminalize marital rape.
Two years later, the issue remains on the back-burner. A bill was drafted and circulated to community stakeholders.
However, last June, Bethel said it was unclear when the matter would progress and said there needs to be more consultation with relevant parties.
Since then, there has been no movement on the issue, and no indication as to when marital rape will be criminalized in The Bahamas.
“I think at the end of the day, the government would be obliged to [address this issue] because this is an issue that is global in nature and it’s not going to go away,” Moultrie said yesterday.