An Important Step towards Equal Nationality Rights in The Bahamas

Equality Bahamas GCENR logos

Equality Bahamas and the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights* welcome the decision by the Supreme Court of The Bahamas to uphold the right of Bahamian men to confer nationality on their children, regardless of marital status.** This is an important step towards upholding equal nationality rights for Bahamians without discrimination on the basis of gender or marital status. Yet, we are troubled by the announcement by the Attorney General of The Bahamas that the government plans to appeal this decision. We also remain deeply concerned by the persistence of gender-discriminatory nationality provisions in the Constitution of The Bahamas, which deprive Bahamian women of equal nationality rights.

In ruling that the Constitution does in fact uphold the right of Bahamian men to confer nationality on children, regardless of marital status, the Court’s decision, if upheld, could benefit thousands of children of Bahamian men born outside of legal marriage. Prior to the ruling, some affected fathers would “adopt” their own children in order for them to become naturalized Bahamian citizens prior to reaching majority. If not naturalized before, affected children could apply for naturalization after their eighteenth birthday. If the ruling stands, The Bahamas would no longer be one of three countries that deny male citizens the right to confer nationality on children born outside legal marriage.

Regardless of the appeal’s outcome, The Bahamas remains one of 25 countries globally whose nationality law denies women the right to confer nationality on their children on an equal basis with men. Married Bahamian women lack the right to pass nationality to children born abroad, a right reserved for Bahamian men. The Bahamas is also one of approximately fifty countries that denies women the same right as men to confer nationality on a non-citizen spouse.

A 2016 public referendum put the question of gender-equal nationality rights and a proposed new article banning sex-based discrimination to the citizens of The Bahamas. The referendum failed by a wide margin, underscoring the need for concerted public awareness raising on the harm caused by gender discrimination in law, which is also a driver of gender-based violence.

"We are pleased with this interpretation of the constitution as inclusive and rights-giving rather than restrictive and punitive. It is unfortunate that the Attorney General is positioning himself as a defender of the constitution and his narrow view of it, rather than a defender of the people for whom the constitution was written. We continue in our work toward constitutional reform and the expansion of women's rights."
- Alicia Wallace, Director of Equality Bahamas, Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights Coalition Member

“The Supreme Court decision is an important step towards achieving equal nationality rights for Bahamian women and men. The persistence of gender discrimination in the nationality law of The Bahamas undermines women and men’s equal citizenship and equality in the family. We urge the government of The Bahamas to build on this recent momentum and take concrete action to advance equal nationality rights for all citizens, women and men."
– Catherine Harrington, Manager of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights


*The Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights consists of a coalition of national and international organizations, including Steering Committee members Equal Rights Trust, Equality Now, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, Women’s Learning Partnership, and Women’s Refugee Commission.

** The Court’s recent decision focused on the meaning of “parents” in the Constitution and the corresponding interpretation of two concerned articles:

Article 6: “Every person born in the Bahamas after 9th July 1973 shall become a citizen of the Bahamas at the date of his birth if at that date either of his parents is a citizen of the Bahamas.”

Article 14 (1): “Any reference in this chapter to the father of a person shall, in relation to any person born out of wedlock other than a person legitimated before 10th July 1973, be construed as a reference to the mother of that person.”