Letters

Gay rights activists need a court challenge not just a parade

Dear Editor,

Fred McAlpine is an imperfect messenger. He lacks compassion for juvenile hurricane victims in Dominica, and often goes off script on the legislative agenda of his party. Who knew he was capable of a rational argument on a hot button issue?

The Reverend McAlpine, FNM member of Parliament from Grand Bahama, made the case for the country to evolve on the issues of abortion and civil unions.

No religious person or politician has gone as far as he has in calling out our crass hypocrisy on these two issues.

Abortions are illegal in The Bahamas and it seldom stirs passions in even the most sanctimonious amongst us. They occur often and although it is not settled government policy, it is clear that what a woman does with her body is her business.

On the issue of gay rights, The Bahamas is the most progressive country in the English-speaking Caribbean, even though our current views are straight out of the 19th century.

McAlpine is trying to drag us into the 20th century, being politically savvy enough to realize that shooting for the 21st century is still a stretch here.

He thinks civil unions could be the interim solution that would guarantee the granting of fuller Bahamian citizenship to a marginalized community that is everyone’s favorite punching bag.

The problems are legal in nature and it will take a full-throated legal challenge to bring about a fix. Our constitution and our laws may have had the intention of making us all equal, but some rights got trampled in the process.

An unmarried Bahamian father cannot automatically pass on his citizenship to his child, but a single mother can. The father is discriminated against.

A man can marry a woman and be estranged from her for years, but on his passing, she has rights endowed by the marriage contract. A gay couple can live together for 50 years, but on the death of one, or when medical services are required or when money is to be divvied up, the law demands we treat them as total strangers.

Civil unions, often referred to as “marriage lite”, give any couple, gay or straight, the cover of the law in organizing their personal and private affairs.

Former PM Hubert Ingraham was most eloquent when he stood up for gay rights 20 years ago when a cruise ship with gay patrons called at Nassau. He famously said that the role of the government is not to investigate or pass judgement on the sexual conduct of adults as long as it was private.

A lot has changed since then, including a softening of attitudes in the worldwide Anglican and Catholic churches.

Gays in The Bahamas should have their parade next year, flanked by a phalanx of law enforcement officers, enlightened straight people and their friends and families. A similar pride parade was held in Bermuda this year and was without incident.

But for real change, they should simultaneously get the best and brightest lawyers in the country to offer their services to a legal defense strategy that will systematically challenge in the courts every inconsistency, infringement of their rights and antiquated law that is still on the books whether enforced or not.

This should lead to the big enchilada, a challenge of the marriage laws all the way up to the Privy Council.

Last year, the High Court in Trinidad and Tobago struck down their buggery laws, declaring them unconstitutional. A local activist named Jason Jones brought the case and skillfully used Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook to keep the issue front and center at home and abroad.

Three years ago, the High Court in Belize declared their anti-gay laws unconstitutional. An advocate named Caleb Orozco filed the legal challenge that brought about that change.

Getting McAlpine to enjoin the debate is probably a good thing, though he is impulsive and therefore unreliable. Pulling off a successful pride parade next year is good for optics. But the movement needs to knock on the courthouse door to effect real change.

They shouldn’t wait for others to give them their rights. They must demand it.

– The Graduate

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