In The Bahamas, marriage remains a most sought after institution; one where a man and woman come together to commit to a lifelong union in which both hope to enjoy devotion, honor, protection and safety.
Yet for far too many, marriage is a cauldron of secrets and shame where violence and violation of various forms are the order of the day, whose exposure is discouraged from ever seeing the light of day.
One such act of violence — rape — continues to enjoy protection in cohabiting marriages in The Bahamas; a protection that exists in only two other countries in the Caribbean community (Haiti and St. Lucia), as Jamaica now prepares to criminalize marital rape.
In an interview with this newspaper, House Speaker Halson Moultrie expressed his being conflicted over the issue of marital rape, opining that siding with the “spiritual” view of marital rape being impossible because marriage causes “two to become one”, is the “safest” position to take.
Though his comments reignited public debate, the larger and fundamental problem is not Moultrie or his inner conflict, but rather the pervasive doctrines and ideologies promulgated in our society which posit that a married woman is the property of her husband and otherwise that a woman’s existence has virtue only in relation to that of a man.
Such ideologies formed the basis of English common law’s view that the contract of marriage includes a husband’s right to sex and is the basis, some argue, for perversions of Sharia Law used to repress and suppress Muslim women both in and outside of marriage.
Almost 80 percent of countries in the world have criminalized marital rape, with some statutes defining the offense as non-consensual sex without the caveat of violence or threat of harm, and others attaching the condition of violence or violent coercion to the definition of the offense.
What is important for all Bahamians to understand is that a marriage license is not a purchase agreement, or a license to abuse or suppress one’s spouse, be it physically, sexually, emotionally or otherwise.
It is thinking to the contrary that enables the devastating scourge of domestic violence to fester in our country, with many from law enforcement officers to one’s next door neighbor taking the attitude that what happens in a marriage — even if it is violence — is nobody else’s business and should suffer no one else’s intervention.
Viewpoints in the country’s over decade-long marital rape debate have been expansive, with Moultrie’s allusion to “safety” presenting us with an opportunity to explore the concept of safety in the context of marriage and the institution thereof.
It is the generally accepted view that sex within a marriage is one of the most sacred privileges of the marriage sacrament, the violation of which through the act of adultery being grounds for lawful termination of the marriage contract.
Given the sanctity of sex in marriage and the calls by religious leaders to protect the same, it stands to reason then that a marriage ought not be viewed in law as a safe place for the violation of this sanctity by violence, force or threats of harm.
The institution of marriage ought to be a safe place for everything except subjugation and fear brought about through violence and force, and the institution should not, as a condition of entering into the same, involve the forfeiture of one’s right to be protected from sexual violation.
Otherwise, how truly safe is the institution of marriage in our country?
In addition to necessary legislative changes, it is ultimately our views and ideas about the role and inherent status of men and women that must change if behaviors in relationships and marriages are to realize positive changes.
So long as we cling to religious and cultural dogmas that establish hierarchies of purpose and value based on one’s sex, we will continue to encourage and elicit dehumanizing actions based on the idea that one is inferior and the other is superior.
Meantime, those who fear that enacting marital rape laws will suddenly make marriage for them an unsafe institution, should honestly evaluate the extent to which they are approaching sex in marriage with violence, aggression and cruelty.
And in turn, they should consider how unsafe the institution of marriage has consequently been for their spouse.