Under pressure from religious leaders in the country, the Keith Mitchell-led government in St. George’s is seeking to convince the population that the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Bill to be voted in the Referendum on October 27 is not intended to promote gay and lesbian marriages.
Attorney-General Cajeton Hood and Minister of State for Education, Senator Simon Stiell were sent by government to assure the nation at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing that there is nothing to fear from the controversial bill.
“This administration does not support same sex marriage”, said Sen. Stiell who is the Leader of Government Business in the Upper House of Parliament.
High-level sources told THE NEW TODAY newspaper that government has been seeking legal advise from some lawyers in the country on whether the bill will allow for same sex marriages.
A source who asked not to be named said that the opinions rendered is that the new bill can be interpreted by a Court of Law to give “the blessings” to marriages between gays and lesbians.
“It is unfortunate that when the bill was before Parliament, none of them (the Parliamentarians) did not understand what they were approving. This bill can rightfully be interpreted by a judge to say that it does not rule out same sex marriages”, said the source.
According to the source, Prime Minister Mitchell is under pressure from some religious leaders especially the strong Catholic Community to give assurances that same sex marriages will not take place in Grenada.
Sen. Stiell told reporters that there are many things that the bill encompasses but same sex marriage is not one of them and it is all about equality for both sexes.
“Within this bill, there are many things, there are many different areas that are covered whether it is our rights to education, whether it is the protection on the rights of the child, whether it is the rights of the physically and mentally challenged, protection of the environment, the rights to food and water, press freedoms …”, he said.
The government minister acknowledged that the specific amendment to the bill that is causing concern in the country is the area of gender equality.
He said: “…Gender equality within the bill is supposed to address the inequalities between men and women, whether it is women’s right to equal pay for equal work, whether it’s a women’s right to equal job opportunities, the rights to equal opportunities in education. That was the intent of this addition to the bill – it does not speak to same sex marriage”.
Sen. Stiell sought to assure the nation that there are no loopholes within the amendment that will allow for legality of same sex marriage as the government is completely against that act.
“It is not the intention to weaken any provisions within the existing constitution with regard to this. The Prime Minister has mentioned on many occasions in regard to same sex marriage, (this is) not under his watch and that is very clear and unambiguous of this administration,” he said.
He urged Grenadians to not use their concerns about this specific bill to influence their thinking on the other six bills in the referendum.
“If we are comfortable with what is presented, we should vote accordingly. If we are uncomfortable with what is being presented we should vote with our conscience on this matter.
“This one bill does not impact any of the other six bills presented.
So if you are unsure or you feel strongly one way or another it should not impact how you view any of the other six bills.
Attorney General Hood echoed the remarks of Sen. Stiell stating that the amendment to the Rights Bill does not amend the status quo of marriage in Grenada since it does not include the word marriage.
Hood told reporters: “So how does somebody import the concept that that amendment speaks to marriage or is intended to apply to marriage?”
“The amendment does not seek to nor does it at all give any additional right to anybody who wanted to get married before the amendment. Doesn’t give any loophole or any extra power or right that was not there before,” he said.
AG Hood made specific reference to Grenada’s Marriage Act which states categorically what a valid marriage is in the country.
“Something that’s startling is that in every single one of them there is a reference between male and female. So, there is an implication in the Marriage Act, which has not been changed at all by the constitutional review point here…there is an inescapable implication that marriage in Grenada is between a male and a female; it is clear…” he said.
The government’s principal legal adviser called on the population to give the “yes” vote to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to replace the British Privy Council as the final court of appeal in the Jurisdiction.
“If you do not want an imposition of a ruling of a foreign court in Grenada then you should vote for the CCJ because the judges of the CCJ will understand how Caribbean people think about same sex marriage.
“…When you go to the Privy Council, you have Privy Counselors who would be interpreting the law based on their experience in England, where they have freed up same sex marriage and that’s one of the reasons why I am saying that the CCJ should be a slam dunk…”.
Like the Attorney-General, Sen. Stiell also threw his support behind the CCJ.
He said: “The Caribbean Court of Justice, which will effectively replace the Privy Council as our final appeals court which resides in the United Kingdom. If we call ourselves an independent nation, an independent people then surely it should be us within the region, within the Caribbean that takes control of that appeals process and decisions that are made with regard to court judgments here in Grenada and throughout the Caribbean”.
According to Sen. Stiell there are other non-controversial bills for the referendum and urged the population to vote in favour of them.
He cited the Election and Boundaries Commission bill as one since it will remove the politics from the elections process and will create an independent commission that will have equal representation from government and the opposition and one appointee of the Governor General.
“Every election we hear some kind of controversy associated with the Supervisor of Elections or the process. This (bill) will remove that controversy…” he said
Sen. Stiell identified another of the non-controversial bills as the name of state change so that the state of Grenada is referred to in future as Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
This, he said should be done in recognition of the value and reflection of the benefits and values that people on the sister isles of Carriacou and Petite Martinique bring to the state of Grenada.
The government minister made a plea to Grenadians to go out to vote on October 27th as the island seeks to make changes to its 42 year old constitution document that became effective on the attainment of Independence from Britain in 1974.