Final push to correct Bahamian citizenship inequality

Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Phillip Davis.
Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Phillip Davis.

The Bahamian government is making what is widely regarded as the final push to amend current legislation that bars both local men and women from passing on citizenship to children if born to a foreign spouse or if a child is born to a foreign unmarried woman.

The issue has bugged successive administrations in recent years with locals rejecting proposed changes to the constitution in referendums as far back as in 2002 and as recently as in 2016.

The administration of Prime Minister Phillip Davis this week vowed to end the “vexing issue” of constitutional clauses that bar a Bahamian woman married to a foreign spouse from automatically passing on citizenship to her offspring. Similarly, a Bahamian man who produces children with a foreigner out of wedlock cannot, as well, onpass citizenship to them even if they were born in the sprawling archipelago just east and south of Florida.

“We will advance appropriate legislation to finally bring equality to Bahamian men and women in the transmission of citizenship to their children. An initial draft has been prepared and commented on internally and we look to advance consultation after bringing it to Cabine and ultimately tabling in parliament,” Attorney General Ryan Pinder told parliament this week. “It is the government’s intention to bring legislation to allow both Bahamian men and women to pass on citizenship in any circumstance. Well, we have failed twice to change the constitution and it is an important element of equality for our people that they see themselves equal among each other and if that means doing it by legislation then that’s what it means,” he said.

He made it clear that previous efforts to change laws via referendums were hurt by voter rejection, noting that “it is an important element of equality of our people that they see themselves equal among each other and if that means doing it by legislation then that’s what it means.”

The Nassau Guardian had quoted former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham as saying that his administration had also been frustrated by referendum rejections even as he backs the latest efforts to amend the laws.

And despite some level some level of hesitancy among the population to support law changes, the Bahamian supreme court recently agreed with a 2020 ruling indicating that anyone born in The Bahamas can and shall become a citizen at their birth date regardless of the marital status of any parent or whether the spouse is Bahamian. The government therefore has  been empowered by that ruling as it moves to end the disparity once and for all.

“Advancing equality when it comes to transmission of citizenship is explicitly permitted through the legislative mechanisms of parliament and we intend on using that avenue to go forward. We are brave, be brave my colleagues, be brave,” AG Pinder told the house.