Member of Parliament
Maritime Marriage bill, 2010
July 7, 2011
mr. Speaker …
Today I am honoured to rise on behalf of the good people of the Elizabeth Constituency. I would like to thank my constituents for having the confidence in me to speak on their behalf. I find it ironic that after most of the day yesterday, and today in debating the Sports Authority Bills we heard all about the prospective economic benefits from sports and how we need to create an industry out of sports, that we have in front of us today a bill that risks an entire industry in the Bahamas, one that is mature, one that in the PLP Administration the Bahamas was on its way to becoming the preeminent destination wedding location in the region. With this bill today, we are proceeding towards the potential dismantling of the destination wedding industry in the Bahamas, and affecting hundreds of Bahamian small business owners and their employees who are connected to this industry.
Sanctity of Marriage
mr. Speaker, before I speak about the economic affects of this bill, and some of the specific provisions, I want to ask the question, do we as a country no longer believe in the sanctity of marriage? are we now willing to sell our name right to any vessel or captain from any country throughout the world to say, if you pay to register your vessel, you can marry anyone under Bahamian law? I believe the Bahamian people value and honor the sanctity of marriage.
mr. Speaker, I ask also, was the religious community consulted on this legislation? Ministers and the religious community have a significant opinion on the sanctity of marriage. furthermore, our current Marriage Act recognizes this when it provides that no minister of religion who is a marriage officer shall be required to act as a marriage officer with respect to any marriage which is contrary to the rules of the religious denomination to which he belongs. mr. Speaker, in my opinion, we should not diminish the value of a marriage, and a family for the sake of adding a few ships to our Maritime Registry. furthermore, this legislation has the potential to put Bahamian business owners at economic risk.
mr. Speaker, this bill not only offers little to the country economically, it risks putting Bahamian businesses out of business. This seems like a consistent trend of this Government, policies that risk putting the small and medium sized businesses out of business. mr. Speaker, we as a country, through our policies and promotional efforts, have caused the Bahamas to be one of the primary destination wedding locations in the Caribbean. Resorts such as Sandals and Breezes have developed a significant portion of their business focused on catering to destination weddings, what is the impact of the legislation on these resorts?
Yes mr. Speaker, we will hear that this legislation only deals with a segment of the market that we do not now have, that of the cruise ship weddings. mr. Speaker, I disagree, I believe that this will cannibalize our stop over destination wedding market. I believe that wedding parties will now decide between coming to the Bahamas to stay to get married, and taking their wedding party on a cruise for their wedding. This has the potential to take business away from the resorts who market themselves as a destination wedding destination. What will this loss of business mean for the employees in a sector of our economy that is currently experiencing reduced employment opportunities, reduced economic growth.
mr. Speaker, it goes deeper than just the resorts. Weddings, especially stop over weddings, are a big business for our economy. It is not only the Resorts that prosper. mr. Speaker, we have over 1,000 marriage officers in the Bahamas, many where performing weddings is their only source of income for supporting and raising their family. mr. Speaker, my good friend Matthew Sweeting is a marriage officer, where performing marriages is a significant, if not a primary source of his family income. 98% of his weddings are to tourist destination weddings. In fact, Matthew has a business arrangement with a U.S. travel company where he caters to weddings from cruise ships, performing up to 6 cruise ship weddings a week during the busy season. This is just one company, one marriage officer.
his livelihood could now be at risk, his career of catering to destination weddings, and even cruise ship weddings is in danger. but it isn’t only Matthew Sweeting who is at risk. Matthew was telling me, during his busy season he can employ upwards of 30 Bahamians in his wedding business, many solely because of the requirements imposed by cruise ships and their travel coordinators. mr. Speaker, these jobs are now at risk of having to be eliminated. we owe more to Matthew Sweeting and all of his professional marriage officer colleagues.
the compensation from performing marriages pays their mortgage, puts their children through school, puts food on the table to raise their families. how does Matthew feel about losing the opportunity to perform marriages for visitors to the Bahamas, how do you think he feels about this industry contracting instead of expanding because of adverse decisions made in this Honourable place? And I am told mr. Speaker, that of all of the niches of our tourism product, destination and cruise ship weddings are recession proof, people still are getting married, Matthew is as busy as ever in today’s challenged economy. mr. Speaker, I can tell you, he and many other marriage officers around the country are not happy with this. I have consulted with persons in the industry to see how they will be affected, I ask, has the Government consulted with the professional wedding coordinators and marriage officers to see how the industry will be affected?
but mr. Speaker, we also have to recognize the indirect industries that a destination wedding business supports. there is the new and maturing industry of a wedding planner. mr. Speaker, especially with the larger destination weddings, a Bahamian wedding planner is a highly compensated person in charge of organizing the ceremony, reception, and could even assist with honeymoon planning. mr. Speaker, this growing career here in the Bahamas is put directly at risk.
Destination weddings also support many different businesses in the Bahamas. the flower shop responsible for providing the floral arrangements for the ceremony and reception also faces losing a significant portion of its revenue from this bill and the loss of destination weddings. Flowers for weddings produce significant revenue for Bahamian owned flower shops, sometimes providing the majority of their revenue for an entire month.
the bakery that makes the wedding cakes, this is an industry that is also potentially at risk. the decorator and the establishment that sells the decorations for destination weddings are also at risk. the limousine driver and bus driver providing transportation, the disk jockey who plays the music. the ancillary Bahamian businesses that will be affected is enormous. See mr. Speaker, when we make decisions to put at risk destination weddings in the Bahamas we put at risk entire sectors of Bahamian small businesses. mr. Speaker, we even put at risk extended stay honeymoon vacations, which has an even deeper indirect effect to the Bahamian economy.
If a couple decides, instead of staying over in the Bahamas for a wedding, they will take a cruise, it is likely that the honeymoon will also be on that cruise ship. Many destination weddings also incorporate the honeymoon at the same location. so if a couple and their entire wedding party comes to the Bahamas to get married, the honeymoon will likely also be in the Bahamas, and members of the wedding party might also decide to extend their stay and take advantage of a vacation in the Bahamas. a destination wedding can cause a tremendous inflow of revenues into the Bahamas as a result of the length of stay of the wedding party. should we put at risk the economic wellbeing of many Bahamians because of the lobby of the cruise ship industry?
mr. Speaker, we recognize the lobby of the cruise ships is very strong. we as a country have given concession after concession to the industry, further marginalizing Bahamians and their entrepreneurial activities. we allowed them to open their casinos in port. we have practically given them private island resorts at the expense of Bahamian businesses. we have allowed them to spend fewer and fewer overnight visits to ports such as Nassau. we are now proposing to give them marriage rights at the expense of many different Bahamian owned businesses. mr. Speaker, the sacrifice of the future of our Bahamian people in favour of cruise ship special interest requests must stop at some time.
mr. Speaker, the Government is not alone in being strongly influenced by the cruise ship groups. even current wedding coordinators and the anlcillary services that would otherwise be provided by Bahamian businesses if affected. I am told for instance, a particular cruise line does not allow weddings booked on its ship to leave the ship, the Bahamian marriage officer must go on board the ship to perform the wedding. This currently eliminates opportunities for Bahamian businesses such as photographers, florists and bakers, certainly limits opportunities to the transportation companies. furthermore, I am told the cruise ships in general for weddings booked on their ships do not allow Bahamian photographers, presumably preserving that service for their on board photographers.
mr. Speaker, the current trend in the industry is for the cruise ships to take business opportunities from themselves, certainly with the passage of this bill, opportunities for Bahamians will be at risk, the cruise ships doing as is consistent with their business model, securing all opportunities for themselves.
Maritime Marriage bill, 2010
mr. Speaker, having set forth my policy concerns to this piece of legislation, I want to now turn to the bill itself, to bring up certain issues that I feel need be addressed. as was described, this legislation allows a “master” of a Bahamian registered ship to conduct marriages outside the territorial waters of the Bahamas and sets forth the procedures for doing this.
Procedure. the registration and notice requirements in the legislation are rather involved, at the outset I question whether the necessary infrastructure, or procedural support is in place, or will be put in place. This process has to be run efficiently and effectively, is the administrative framework in place?
Marriage of Minors. Section 9 of the Act outlines the circumstances in which a minor can be married. a minor is required to have the consent of certain persons, namely parents or guardians to marry. the provision, however, provides that “if there is no such person or are no such persons to give consent no consent shall be required.” I am not sure what this provision means. does this mean if the person required to give consent is not available, no consent is required. does it mean that when a minor has no guardian at all, no consent is required? Under what circumstances does this occur? This provision, especially the exception for no consent, is unclear and needs to be better described.
Consent of Judge with Minor. Section 10(2) is also a bit troubling as it relates to the consent to marry a minor. the provision provides that if the parent or guardian as the case may be refuses to provide consent to a minor to get married, on application to a court, a Judge can overrule the parent or guardian and allow the marriage. Under what circumstances should this occur? should this occur at all? are we now legislating around the responsibilities and parenting of children? This provision seems against our country’s philosophy to promote family values. Do we really want minors from other countries challenging their parents or guardians in our courts so they can get married by a captain of a foreign vessel in international waters?
Marriage “at the point of Death”. Section 17 provides that one can marry on a foreign vessel in international waters without the need to abide by the registration and certification requirements if the marriage is, in the opinion of a medical practitioner, as a result of one of the participants being “at the point of death.” This is obviously a difficult provision to enforce and administer. who is a medical practitioner? Is it a nurse? Also, does it matter if the medical practitioner is wrong, or is not competent to determine if a party is at the point of death? the Bahamas will not have record of proper procedures in this circumstance, a circumstance that is difficult to monitor or enforce.
Foreign Language. Section 26 allows the statements and declarations to be made in a foreign language if such language is what the parties commonly use. there is no provision, however, for such statements to be translated and certified to English to be properly recorded in the Bahamas. It is my opinion that the translation and certification of the foreign language declarations and statements be required of the respective parties at their expense. It would be logical that they have to be translated anyway to be properly recorded, and it should not be the Registrar of Marriages obligation to do so, especially in circumstances of foreign languages that we do not frequently encounter.
Marriage Officer. This Act clearly expands the definition and scope of who qualifies as a marriage officer. a marriage officer is a master of a Bahamian Ship licensed by the Minister. a Bahamian Ship is a ship registered in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas under Part II of the Merchant Shipping Act. there are many different types of vessels that are registered under this Part of the Merchant Shipping Act, including and motor vessels owned by Bahamian citizens. does this bill intend on giving Bahamian masters of Bahamian owned vessels the option of applying to be marriage officers, providing an alternative avenue of marriage officer qualification? If so, did the Government consult with the religious community and the current marriage officers? Is this an unintended consequence of this bill?
mr. Speaker, I have mentioned above certain questions and concerns about specific provisions of the Maritime Marriage bill 2010. I would ask the Government to review these concerns. more importantly, however, I have discussed in detail, with specific examples from the industry, the risk that this bill has with respect to a lucrative, important industry in the Bahamas, the destination wedding industry. I am of the opinion that this bill will damage and take away opportunities from a variety of Bahamian owned businesses, jeopardizing not only careers, but jobs throughout the country. as I described above, the wedding industry supports a number of Bahamian owned businesses in a variety of fields.
mr. Speaker, in concluding, I want to speak to the Bahamians listening, I want to speak to:
the marriage officers
the wedding planners
the limousine drivers
the rental companies
to all Bahamians, Elizabeth has concerns about this legislation and its effect on Bahamians, Elizabeth believes everything we do in this Honourable place should be “All about you!!!”. I also recognize that the cruise ship industry is an important component of our tourism sector. This is a difficult balance, and we as legislators have an obligation to present the pros and concerns of legislation we debate in this Honourable House.