Former Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes said yesterday he supports the plan to bring a citizenship bill to provide for equality in the rights of Bahamians, no matter their sex, to pass citizenship on to their children, but he said there is still need for these rights to be enshrined in the constitution.
“I support the passage of the proposed bill, which would extend these rights to women, but I still believe that is not enough,” said Sir Arthur, who at 94 is one of five remaining members of the Bahamian delegation who attended the Independence Conference in December 1972 where the current constitution was agreed.
Speaking of the planned legislation, Sir Arthur, who was contacted by The Nassau Guardian for his views, said, “If that is all we can do at the moment, okay, but that is not enough. These rights, at some point, must be enshrined in our constitution, and I think that we should be committed to that down the line.”
Sir Arthur said the issue of equality of citizenship for men and women was “one of the issues that we separated on in London”.
“It was our position (that there be equality in the right of citizenship),” he said.
“It was debated and the argument then was the international practice was that the woman followed the man, which was true at the time, but that was not our [view].”
There have been two failed attempts at constitutional reform — one in 2002 under the Ingraham administration and another in 2016 under the Christie administration.
In 2016, the first referendum question sought to give a child born outside The Bahamas to a married Bahamian-born mother and non-Bahamian father the same right to Bahamian citizenship at birth that the constitution already gives to a child born outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian-born father married to a non-Bahamian mother.
The proposed change sought to do for Bahamian married mothers what it has done for Bahamian married fathers since 1973.
That referendum also sought to eliminate discriminatory language from the constitution, as did the one in 2002.
The Davis administration has said it will not go the way of a referendum, with Attorney General Ryan Pinder suggesting last week that referendums tend to produce the wrong results.
In the Senate in June, Pinder announced, “We will advance appropriate legislation to finally bring equality to Bahamian men and women in the transmission of citizenship to their children, bringing to conclusion through law the vexing issues we experience of inequality in this country.”
While prime minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis had committed to doing the same.
In November 2017, he announced in the House that his government would bring legislation to ensure that children born to Bahamian women have an automatic right to citizenship no matter where they are born in the world.
His administration never took up the issue, however.
But Minnis said on Wednesday he still supports any move to introduce the citizenship legislation.
Others have already raised concerns that the citizenship bid would be an attempt by the government to overturn the will of the people as expressed in two referendums.
While referencing no one in particular, Sir Arthur said yesterday, “The bottom line is some people will talk and talk but they can’t come out and say it; they don’t agree with it. They have this patriarchy thing in their heads.”
Asked if he expected to see change in his lifetime, he said he was hopeful.
Sir Arthur also said, “I believe in full equality and any genuine progressive must believe in full equality for all citizens and this discrimination against women must end.
“It was a flaw from the beginning, and I repeat, it’s okay now to do it in the law, so at least some relief will be had, but it must at some point be corrected in our constitution. We can’t allow that to stand in our constitution.”
Ahead of the 2002 referendum, the Progressive Liberal Party, then in opposition, voted for the referendum bills in the House of Assembly.
It then campaigned against the referendum, raising issues with “process”.
“We knew that everybody was onboard with it,” Sir Arthur said.
“It was shocking that they would (campaign against it) after agreeing to it; the vote was unanimous in Parliament. That’s the central point. It was unanimous in Parliament and that is the idea behind a referendum.”
He added, “If the political parties get together and it is unanimous, that’s an indication to the people that that’s okay, but when you make it a political football then everything is open and all the misogynists and ‘patriarchals’ got in the act and that was it, and it [was] unfortunate; and when you do that you poison the well, and we’re doing the same thing now with a number of other things. We are just undermining some of our institutions.”
The attorney general previously said the citizenship bill would be advanced before the end of the summer.
He more recently said it will be brought before the end of the current budget year.