The government yesterday held a symposium with stakeholders to consult on its recently released bill to amend the Sexual Offences Act to establish marital rape as a crime.
It is mind boggling and quite frankly embarrassing for our country that we are still having a debate on this issue in 2022.
Over many years, the issue has drawn such vitriolic reactions that the political will to address it appeared to have evaporated.
Contrary to views some may have, criminalizing marital rape does not require long and complex legislation. It requires a simple amendment to the act, eliminating five words from the definition of rape — “who is not a spouse”.
The Davis administration has found the courage to draft a bill.
This is encouraging and in keeping with a commitment Philip Davis made while in opposition that his government would criminalize marital rape.
“…We don’t support men raping their wives, so we will support any measure that will penalize husbands who rape their wives,” he said.
Whether the government will bow to pressure of elements of the religious community, and others opposed to the legislation remains to be seen.
At yesterday’s symposium, Attorney General Ryan Pinder explained the specific amendments to the existing legislation and attempted to allay fears that the new law would be an attack on the institution of marriage.
The views expressed by stakeholders who attended the meeting ranged from constructive observations to the downright ridiculous and unnecessarily alarmist.
One participant went as far as to call the bill “demonic”.
Another participant, Pastor Kenneth Lewis, president of the Grand Bahama Christian Council, said while he has no problems with the government amending the laws, “we should be careful and cautious and not traverse the bedroom of a married man and a woman, who appeared before God and engaged in a tripartite covenant and entered into the sacred sacrament of marriage”.
Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander also said the government “is looking for a legal mechanism to legislate and control what takes place in the bedroom”.
“Marriage is not a government institution,” he said. “It is a God institution.”
That the opposition to this issue remains undergirded by some religious leaders perpetuating the ridiculous idea that a man somehow cannot rape a wife because the two are joined in marriage remains most unfortunate.
A great objection to the bill seems to center around the question: What if a wife falsely accuses her husband?
We made the point before; women can already accuse men they are not married to of rape. Some men are convicted; some are acquitted, once the cases are vetted. That is what courts are for.
Still fears persist, and many irrationally so. There remain deep divisions.
One study released late last year found that close to 40 percent of university students in The Bahamas believe that rape cannot occur within a marriage.
“This indicates the considerable disagreement on this topic in a society where the law recognizes rape only outside of marriage, as demonstrated in debates on marital rape,” noted the study published in the International Journal of Bahamian Studies.
We believe that the Davis administration should move its new bill to Parliament and that parliamentarians should green light it and move on to other important matters on the legislative agenda.
We predict time will show that many of the fears expressed were indeed irrational.
It should be illegal to rape your spouse. Plain and simple.
All right-thinking people should agree that no one should be raped.
There should be no protections to rape another person in any situation.
Husbands do not own wives. They have no right to the bodies of the women they are married to without their consent.
It is important for democratic governments to explain to, and consult with, the electorate.
It is also important for leaders to lead in doing what is right. Our laws should be amended to ensure that no one is protected when they rape another person — married or not.