Across the globe, more and more individuals are openly living what society has dubbed an alternative lifestyle – a departure from the traditional heterosexual relationships and families – in favour of same sex partnerships. While such unions have become more popular in recent years, the onset of this lifestyle was met with trepidation, apprehension and in some cases outright discrimination by groups who have and continue to label such unions as unholy, or unnatural.
Alternative lifestyles are not merely limited to homosexuals – lesbians and gays – but also encompasses an entire grouping of individuals ranging from bisexual, transgender and transsexual people known as the LGBT community.
As with countless other marginalized groups, same sex couples and partners have through protests, demonstrations, petitions and countless other avenues, sought greater protection under the law and an expansion of their rights including the right to adopt children and the right to marry, which in many countries – including some US states, Ghana, Algeria, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica – is still illegal. In fact of the 196 countries which make up the global community, 78 countries still outlaw homosexuality and limit the rights of LGBT citizens specifically with regard to their right to wed. This has led to issues for such individuals in cases where the assets accumulated within the union must be divided in death or separation.
Proponents of same-sex marriage argue that preventing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals from marrying infringes upon a number of their rights, including rights to housing and social security or other government benefits, and often leads to additional acts of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Opponents of the lifestyle have argued however, that it goes against natural laws of procreation and family life, while others oppose on the issue of morality. According to Bible scripture homosexuality is a sin against God and the moral principles outlined in the Bible.
In recent years though, scores of countries have, under the law, moved to validate same sex unions and grant them the rights afforded to other married couples. All European countries for example have repealed their laws against homosexuality, although Russia, and Ukraine both enacted an anti-gay propaganda law which prohibits any positive mention of homosexuality in the presence of minors.
In the United States, all but 12 states still deem same sex marriages unconstitutional with Florida – The Bahamas' closest US neighbour – becoming the latest to repeal their laws prohibiting persons of the same sex to wed in December 2014.
While homosexuality is not legally outlawed in The Bahamas, it is restricted to consenting adults in private and persons engaging in that alternative lifestyle are not permitted to wed. The Matrimonial Causes Act stipulates that a legal marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. The recent decision by Florida legislators to legalize same sex unions, coupled with the local conversation about the rights of same sex couples in the context of the country's legal and Christian belief system, which do not allow such unions has raised questions about the future of same sex laws in The Bahamas.
The Bahamas over the past few years has signed on to certain conventions and treaties that in many respects, pave the way for expanded LGBT rights in the country. The Bahamian government, through its recent push toward gender equality further opened that door via one of the four questions prepared for a proposed referendum.
Question number four in the collection of constitutional reform bills, seeks to insert the word sex in Article 26 of the Bahamas Constitution which would make it illegal to discriminate against an individual for ANY REASON and under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES on the basis of gender. The wording of that fourth constitutional amendment question has been heavily debated over the last year or so with some political opponents of the bill calling for the question to be disregarded in its entirety while others have conceded that adjusting the verbiage of the question to include the words 'at birth' could make a difference in ensuring that the law as stipulated by the Matrimonial Causes Act cannot be overturned by a legal challenge.
So far, the current PLP administration has downplayed the concerns raised by the local, legal and religious communities regarding this aspect of the constitutional reform bills, however when combined with the stipulations attached to the various international treaties which The Bahamas has signed, it comes clear that the amended laws could become a catalyst to allow the legalization of same sex unions.
At the moment, trends surrounding the legalization of gay marriage indicate that many more developed countries will follow the lead of European countries in expanding the rights of citizens opting into the alternative lifestyle. In the context of The Bahamas as a tourism destination, the country could find itself under pressure to do the same in a bid to attract more visitors to our shores.
The outcome of any such decision, whether in favour or against granting legitimacy to same sex unions, could have far reaching social, political and economic implications for the archipelago which have yet to be discussed or addressed in a concise or sustainable way.
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