NASSAU, Bahamas, CMC ? The ruling Free National Movement (FNM) has called on religious organisations to follow the lead of the Roman Catholic Church and support the amendment to the Sexual Offences Act that would outlaw marital rape in The Bahamas.
“We in the party pray that other sectors of the church will follow the bold initiative of Archbishop Pinder and the Roman Catholic community who have done the right thing, not only toward the deserving women of that religious denomination, but of all women all over the Commonwealth of The Bahamas,” said FNM Chairman Johnley Ferguson.
Roman Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder also urged the government to ensure that the legislation fulfils the purpose for which it is intended.
“In particular, care must be taken to protect against false accusations of rape within marriage so as to safeguard the presumption of innocence which is a fundamental right of all persons,” he said.
“Toward this end, it may indeed be necessary to amend section 6 of the Act to provide that no prosecution may be commenced against a person accused of marital rape without the consent of the attorney general.”
Earlier this week, Minister of State for Social Development, Loretta Butler-Turner said the proposed legislation is not intended to redefine marriage but will enhance family life.
?This is not a law just for women. This is not a law that has been put forward to break down the institution of marriage,? she said, noting that it is the government?s position that every Bahamian must be protected under the law.
Ferguson said he hoped other religious denominations would show support for what they ?know is right and proper in the sight of God?.
Under the present legislation, a spouse can only be raped by a spouse in The Bahamas if they are legally separated or in the process of getting a divorce. Bahamian law does not recognize rape in marriages where the couple lives together and there is no separation or divorce in progress.
Ferguson said the proposed amendment reflects precisely the party’s long tradition of defence of Bahamian women.
“Ever since the publication of the FNM’s Manifesto ’92 in preparation for the campaign of the 1992 general elections, the party clearly set out its agenda for the defence, honour, respect, dignity, and upliftment of women.
“What also must never be forgotten is that the FNM government, in February 2002, took the bold, brave, and defiant step of proposing a referendum for the amending of the Constitution of The Bahamas, which included an amendment which would have brought essential elements of new equality for the women of The Bahamas,” Ferguson said.
The main opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has called on the government not to proceed with legislation but instead encourage wider consultation on domestic violence including rape in marriages.