A bill in the Bahamian legislature that would criminalize marital rape has sparked public debate. The lawmaker who drafted the bill, Minister of State for Social Development Loretta Butler-Turner, says the bill would combat attitudes about spousal relationships that leave women vulnerable to abuse, reports the Associated Press. Currently, charges of rape can only be brought against a spouse if the couple is legally separated or in the process of getting a divorce, according to the Nassau Guardian.
The bill has ignited debate among the public during government-organized forums and on radio talk shows. Many say they are opposed to the measure because it contradicts their Christian values or because they believe it will lead to women filing false charges against their husbands, reports the Associated Press. One of the most vocal religious leaders in opposition to the bill, Senior Pastor of the Kingdom Life Church Cedric Moss, has said that sexual violence within marriage should not be called rape and should be addressed with lesser penalties than non-marital rape, according to the Nassau Guardian.
The extent of controversy over the bill led Progressive Liberal Party Senate Leader Allyson Maynard-Gibson to propose last week that the bill be withdrawn until an in-depth study about domestic violence can be conducted, reports the Nassau Guardian. She suggested that evaluation of the bill be “removed from the political arena and be conducted by nationally and internationally respected experts” in the legal, religious and medical fields. She also called for several sweeping changes in how rapes are prosecuted, including the creation of a new family court system to try domestic violence charges.
Sandra Dean-Patterson, director of a nonprofit that aides abuse victims continues to speak out in support of the bill. She told the Associated Press that the bill “says that our nation will no longer condone violence in the family. If you have to force your husband or your wife to be sexual, something is wrong with the relationship.”