LGBT rights in the Bahamas
|LGBT rights in the Bahamas|
|Same-sex sexual activity legal?||Legal since 1991, age of consent not equal.|
|Military service||Gays and lesbians allowed to serve|
|Discrimination protections||None (see below)|
|No recognition of same-sex couples|
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in the Bahamas may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is legal in the Bahamas, but same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex married couples.
Same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults was legalised in The Bahamas on 16 May 1991. However, the criminal code still discriminates against gay, lesbian and bisexual people in that the legal age of consent to engage in homosexual conduct is eighteen years, while the legal age of consent to engage in heterosexual conduct is sixteen years.
The Constitution does provide for various civil liberties, but its prohibition against discrimination does not include sexual orientation or gender identity. Efforts to include sexual orientation in a newly proposed Constitution have been blocked by members of a government-appointed commission who oppose homosexuality on religious grounds.
The Constitutional Reform Commission, which had been reviewing the country’s unamended 1973 Supreme Law for three years, presented a preliminary report to a previous Progressive Liberal Party government on 21 March 2006. The Commission indicated that equal treatment be afforded to citizens regardless of religion, political opinion, race, sex and gender. However, despite recommendations, it did not regard sexual orientation as an attribute deserving of any protection from discrimination. The Commission was dissolved and its work abandoned after the Free National Movement won the national election on 2 May 2007.
The present PLP government, voted in on 7 May 2012, has the two-thirds majority in the parliament needed to change the Constitution; however, there has been no indication that a new Commission would be established.
Recognition of same-sex relationships
Same-sex marriages and civil unions are not legal in the Bahamas. LGBT rights groups never challenged the country's marriage laws, which previously assumed that a couple is a man and woman. Today, such a challenge would likely fail as the definition of a couple has been clearly defined in amended marriage acts, passed on 7 July 2011.
On that day, during debate on a Maritime Marriage Bill to legalize marriages in Bahamian waters, then Minister of State for Finance Zhivargo Laing said a clause defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman was consolidated in the country's four marriage acts to include the Marriage Act, the Marriage of Deceased Wife's Sister Act, the Marriage of British Subjects Act and the Foreign Marriages Act.
Laing said, "A marriage is void if it took place between persons who were male and male or female and female. So, in this Maritime Marriage Bill we are stating this fact in the clear positive — a marriage must take place between a male and a female and we want that to be abundantly clear."
But despite the lack of government sanctioning, same-sex unions and commitment ceremonies have been privately performed by several pastors and Justices of the Peace for years. However, they are increasingly running the risk of being exposed.
On 21 September 2006, a lesbian complained to The Nassau Guardian daily newspaper after reportedly having paid an exorbitant fee to marry her long-term partner. The story got the attention of the president of The Bahamas Christian Council who warned that criminal charges would be brought against clergymen found performing same-sex marriages.
On 18 March 2007, a pastor who had written many articles against homosexuality in The Nassau Guardian held a "Save the Family Rally" in Freeport. The purpose of the rally was to oppose same-sex civil unions and marriages. Hundreds of people attended the event and signed a petition calling for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in The Bahamas. Several cabinet ministers were also in attendance but they made no such constitutional motion in parliament.
There are no prohibitions on gays serving in the police and military forces. In May 1998, then National Security Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Frank Watson reaffirmed the government's stance on the matter, saying the Bahamas military, prison service and police force do not discriminate based on sexual orientation.
Civil rights protections
On 17 June 2011, The Bahamas Government expressed support for a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution promoting equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation. But successive governments have done nothing over the past 20 years to ensure that LGBT citizens are included in non-discrimination clauses in statute laws.
Discrimination in areas such as employment, education, housing, health care, banking and public businesses on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is not illegal. Likewise, there is no national hate crime law to address violence or harassment directed at LGBT people.
Most Bahamas citizens affiliate with a socially conservative Christian sect that views homosexuality and cross-dressing as signs of decadence and immorality. As a result, politicians have been leery of publicly supporting LGBT-rights legislation and there have been several high-profile situations of discrimination and harassment directed at LGBT citizens along with tourists.
- In July 2004, church groups protested the arrival of Rosie O'Donnell's R Family Vacations cruise.
- In September 2005, an 18-year-old beauty queen had her crown stripped after confirming rumors that she was a lesbian
- In March 2006, the Bahamas Plays and Films Control Board banned the American gay-themed movie, Brokeback Mountain.
- In September 2007, the Bahamas Christian Council formed an anti-gay committee to fight against a gay group after it asked the local cable company to offer Logo, a channel catering to the LGBT community.
- On 6 Oct. 2007, police raided a gay cruise party in downtown Nassau but could not arrest anyone, as no crime was committed. Passengers demanded an apology from local police. The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism issued an apology to the cruise company. This incident mirrors a public protest to a lesbian cruise which docked in Nassau on 14 April 1998.
- On 10 Oct 2007, two anti-gay activists appeared on a conservative radio station (Gems 105.9 FM) and called for the re-criminalization of homosexuality. The most vocal activist, Clever Duncombe, said he would "kill" homosexuality wherever he finds it. On the same station, anti-gay Muslim guest Khalil Mustafa Khalfani said, "the only good homosexual is a dead homosexual."
- In a 2009 case, a jury acquitted a man charged with murdering a gay, HIV-positive male. The man used the so-called "gay panic defense", claiming that the gay male attempted to rape him. However, the prosecution denied this and said the gay man - who was a shop owner and son of a politician - was robbed before he was killed. The prosecution also questioned why the man went to the gay man’s apartment around 11 pm, charging that it was with the intent to commit a robbery. But the defense attorney said his client was "protecting his manhood" and the killing of the gay man was justified. The story sparked international outrage.
- On 10 June 2010, in a similar gay panic defense case, a convicted killer received a very lenient sentence in the shooting death of a gay man. The convict claimed the gay man had made a "homosexual advance" towards him. Joan Sawyer, the President of the Court of Appeal, was quoted as saying, "One is entitled to use whatever force is necessary to prevent one's self being the victim of a homosexual act." 
- On 24 June 2011, The Bahamas Plays and Films Control Board attempted to block the showing of the Bahamian-produced, gay-themed movie "Children of God" in the public square in downtown Nassau. The board had banned the American gay-themed movie Brokeback Mountain five years earlier. However, on this occasion, the government overruled the board and allowed the movie to be showed.
There is also a sentiment in The Bahamas’ LGBT community, supported by evidence, that if a gay man is murdered, his killer will not be found by police. Over the past 10 years, seven known gay men have been murdered in Nassau but none of their cases have been solved by police. In one case, involving the 2008 murder of Jamaican waiter Marvin Wilson, the suspect turned himself into police. The suspect’s name was not released as he was a 17-year-old minor at the time. In a more popular case, a jury acquitted Troyniko McNeil, accused of the 2007 slaying of handbag designer Harl Taylor. The names of the murdered gay men, their profession and date they were found dead are as follows: Kevin Williams, Policeman, 15 May 2001—Thaddeus McDonald, Lecturer, 16 Nov 2007—Harl Taylor, Designer, 18 Nov 2007—Wellington Adderley, Activist, 26 May 2008—Marvin Wilson, Waiter, 3 June 2008—Paul Whylly, Dancer, 19 October 2008—Shavado Simmons, Photographer, 17 July 2011.
As a result of the lack of confidence in the judicial system, legal inequalities and homophobia in the country, many LGBT people are in the closet about their sexual orientation or gender identity. While LGBT rights organizations have been permitted to exist, LGBT social events are often pressured to remain low key. The former LGBT rights group, Rainbow Alliance of The Bahamas, launched a public campaign against discrimination and participated in talk shows on the subject. Today, Bahamas LGBT Equality Advocates is speaking out against homophobia through social media.
The Bahamas has a tourist-based economy and the government targets a variety of markets, but not the growing LGBT tourism market. Individual and small groups of homosexual tourists are left alone for the most part but boatloads of gay visitors have been protested on three separate occasions — once on 8 March 1998, a month later on 13 April 1998 and again on 16 July 2004. However, the Rainbow Alliance held a counter protest during the 2004 demonstrations, welcoming the gay visitors.
As far as nightlife is concerned, gay bars have existed in the Bahamas for at least four decades. Today, there are three gay-owned nightclubs in the capital, Nassau. The most popular club is located in the downtown area.
Gay nightlife in Freeport, Grand Bahama however, is not as vibrant. Gays in the less-populated northern city usually hang out in straight clubs.
- State-sponsored Homophobia A world survey of laws prohibiting same sex activity between consenting adults
- World Age of Consent - Avert.org
- Constitutional Reform Commission Preliminary Report - March 2006
- Government Against Gay Marriage - Nassau Guardian - 8 July 2011
- Definition of Marriage to Remain Between Man and Woman - The Tribune - 8 July 2011
- The Story Behind the Marriage Act - Bahamas Uncensored - 10 July 2011
- Nassau Guardian - 22 September 2006
- Nassau Guardian - 27 September 2006
- Gay Union Controversy - 27 September 2006
- Freeport News - 19 March 2007
- GayLawNet - The Bahamas - May 1998
- The Bahamas Does Not Ban Gays in the Military - GayToday - May 1998
- Gays Allowed in Bahamas Military - ILGA - June 2009
- Bahamas Backs Gay Rights - Nassau Guardian - 18 June 2011
- Bahamas Supports Gay Rights - Caribbean News Now - 20 June 2011
- Gay Cruise Passengers Met With Angry Protest in Bahamas - 16 July 2004
- Angry Protest As Rosie's Cruise Arrives in Bahamas - 17 July 2004
- Lesbian Beauty Queen Comes Out - 1 September 2005
- Bahamas Bans Brokeback Mountain - BBC News - 31 March 2006
- Culture Author Speaks Against Brokeback Mountain Ban - 2 June 2006
- Bahamas Christian Council Appoints An "Anti-gay Committee" - 29 September 2007
- Bahamas Christian Council Opposes Gay Channel - 26 September 2007
- Bahamas Christian Council Meets With Gay Rights Group - 27 September 2007
- Verbal Attack on Gays Continues - Nassau Guardian - 3 October 2007
- Ebony Pyramid Cruise Complaint Against Police - 11 October 2007
- Bahamas Police Harass Gay and Lesbian Tourists - 8 October 2007
- Ministry Apologizes to Ebony Pyramid Cruise - 16 October 2007
- CNN - Bahamians Protest Arrival of Lesbian Cruise - 14 April 1998
- On Top Magazine - 3 February 2009
- Pink News - 2 February 2009
- Judge: Killing was Justified to Avoid a Homosexual Act - Bahamas Local - 11 June 2010
- 'Unduly lenient' sentence for shooting death will stand - The Tribune - 10 June 2010
- Award Winning Bahamas Gay-Themed Film Children of God - Covering Media - 20 May 2011
- Children of God Tackles Homophobia in The Bahamas - 16 December 2009
- Gay Murders in Nassau Bahamas - 8 June 2008
- Police Force Silence on Gay Murders - 20 June 2008
- Teen Killer of Gay Man Turns Himself In (Part 1) - 24 July 2008
- Teen Killer of Gay Man Turns Himself In (Part 2) - 24 July 2008
- Troyniko McNeil Acquitted – 22 July 2010
- Two Bahamian Gay Men Talk About Their Lives - 28 July 2003
- Bahamas LGBT Equality Advocates - Bahamas National Gay Rights Organization