Eight weeks ago, a high court judge in The Bahamas ruled that a husband can indeed rape or force his wife to have sex with him whether she consents or not, because local laws do not cover rape in a marriage.
The ruling had triggered widespread consternation in the archipelago off Florida, largely because it was perhaps the clearest and most definitive interpretation of the law pertaining to rape among married couples.
Stunned into action, the governing Progressive Labor Party (PLP) said it is now moving to amend the law to cater for such an offense as the time has come—after nearly two decades of trying by previous governments—to amend the law with regards to marital rape.
Attorney General Ryan Pinder says authorities have already done the draft amendments, and are circulating it among civil society and other stakeholders to obtain feedback before lawmakers debate it by the end of the year. Rights and other non-governmental organizations want the bill to be tabled immediately, but Pinder says the cabinet will give the consultative process a bit more time.
“We want to keep it open and get some feedback. We’ve already received a few comments on the legislation from different parties to tweak it or provide certain different language that we are looking at. We don’t want to discourage anybody from providing the necessary input on such an important issue. So, no decision has been made as a deadline for comment at this time,” he told reporters recently.
In the recent ruling, Justice Denise Lewis-Johnson allowed an unnamed woman to divorce her husband because he often raped her and treated her cruelly and indifferently, especially after imbibing alcohol.
The judge said she was forced by local statutes to follow local laws strictly and none indicates that a man can rape his lawfully wedded wife.
“The court accepts that rape is a most heinous act of cruelty and a malicious violation of a person. However, on a strict reading of laws of The Bahamas, there is no rape in marriage. Pursuant to section 3 of the sexual offences act, the law does not allow for one spouse to rape the other. In this place we interpret existing laws and apply them. We cannot and must not succumb to the temptation to reform laws,” the judge said.
Now AG Pinder says there will be no dithering as to whether the law will be amended as Bahamians have over time been debating this issue quite regularly and authorities can build on the previous work by past administrations.
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said he was forced to back off from changing the law largely because of resistance from within his own party, the church and prominent citizens.
“I assume that Prime Minister Philip Davis will make a judgment as to whether or not he has the support of his members to pass it. You know, many persons who you see parade around here as an ordinary, decent human being do not believe that marital rape ought to be a criminal offense and, in private, they have their views.”
The couple had married in 2005 and have one child. The petitioner told the court that she has since abandoned the home because she was unable to deal with the emotional abuse any longer.