Considering the constitution

The real victims of [the] unequal entitlement to Bahamian citizenship … are … children, regardless of their sex. The key provision in the Constitution, where the debate is framed around gender, but could also be framed around children’s rights … — Stephen Aranha
“I want a Bahamas that ensures that no one can be discriminated against on the basis of sex, and all men and all women enjoy the same rights and privileges. I’m not willing to create that Bahamas on the backs of a small group of Bahamians, invisibilizing intersex Bahamians – a group of people we should be protecting in this exercise.” — Erin Greene

Tomorrow, Bahamians will go to the polls and vote in a constitutional referendum whose expressed purpose is to address the question of gender inequality in our constitution. Four bills have been prepared, which seek to address that inequality. Much has been said about these bills, particularly what people claim will be the result of any amendments; religious and political leaders have had a lot to say, and individual citizens have also shared their opinions freely on social media sites and talk shows.

I’ve pretty much made up my mind about how I plan to vote, and have said so publicly on Facebook. However, I’m reading two articles that just might inspire a change/change my mind; I don’t know yet. I embarked on this process—which started in 2014—convinced that I would vote this time, as I did in 2002, in favour of eliminating the discriminatory clauses in the constitution. However, it turns out that the process may not be as simple as that. The bills being advanced to amend the constitution are transitory documents, and they have been subject to considerable qualification. Our political leaders are extremely receptive to public opinion—willing, indeed, eager, to put popularity before principle—with the result that the clarity of the proposed amendments has lessened. Indeed, one or two are positively murky.

For anyone who is seriously considering how they will vote on Tuesday (if they have not already voted in the advance poll), I recommend you read this article by Stephen Aranha. And then go and read this interview of Erin Greene by Alicia Wallace. Yes, both require expending some effort. (Needless to say, you should also spend some time with our constitution and with the proposed bills, paying close attention to the wording of the amendments so that we don’t make the mistake of thinking we are voting against one thing (gambling) when we are in fact voting against something quite different (the regulation of webshops).

True, reading both of them may not change any minds. But part of the responsibility of democracy is the requirement to inform oneself—and to inform oneself in a more serious manner than simply listening to what others have to say (without checking to see whether what they say is even true or accurate) and jumping on their bandwagons. We have not got many channels by which to exercise our democracy in this nation; when we have the chance, we need to make our decisions count.

I’m not writing this to take a stand. As I said, I pretty much know what my vote will be tomorrow; but I am open to looking at the issues from different perspectives, and I’m willing to think about the possibility of changing it one way or another if I find another argument convincing. After all, a vote is not a commodity to be sold or bartered  away to the most emotional orator, to a favourite political party, or even to a preferred political stance. Our vote is our voice. It’s the only voice we have. Don’t throw it at this referendum lightly. The way we vote tomorrow will affect us for far longer than the standard five years; our constitution is a forever thing.

For me, I’m going to do what I can to make my vote matter.  I invite you to do the same.

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