Mr. Ghian Gandhi, Legal Adviser to the Ministry of Finance has pointed out that there are laws which already define the status of a “spouse”, so that the new definition contained in the Domestic Banks and Financial Institutions Act should not be a cause for concern.
This, coming from a legal expert who has spent more than 30 years in Belize, first as Crown Counsel, Legal Draftsman, Solicitor General and now Legal Advisor, is perplexing.
This is not the first time that ambiguous language has played a disruptive role in drafting new legis-
lation, and it is never a light or trivial matter.
The wording in this case is not only in contention with previous definitions of the word “spouse”. It replaces a perfectly good definition with one which is obtuse and troublesome, even when viewed with the best intentions.
The essential element of “spouseship” requires a relationship between a man and a woman. Any definition which does not recognize this essential interplay has to be regarded as something which is improvised.
Strictly speaking, a spouse is either a husband or a wife. Dictionary definitions say that a spouse is a married person – husband or wife, or one to whom another is married.
For the purpose of accommodating commonlaw marriages and to give women some protect-ion in an unofficial but stable relationshiop, the law has been amended to include unmarried couples who live together and maintain a permanent relationship similar to that of married couples.
Wikipedia on the web provides the most up -to-date definition yet. It defines a spouse as “a partner in a marriage, civil union, domestic partnership or common-law marriage. The term is gender neutral, whereas a male spouse is a husband and a female spouse is a wife.”
“Although a spouse is a form of significant other, the latter term also includes non-marital partners who play a social role similar to that of a spouse, but do not have rights and duties reserved by law to a spouse.
“The legal status of a spouse, and the specific rights and obligations associated with that status, varies by region and culture. Historically, many societies have given sets of rights and obligations to male marital partners that have been very different from the sets of rights and obligations given to female marital partners
“In particular, the control of marital property, inheritance rights, and the right to dictate the activities of children of the marriage, have typically been given to the male partner. However, this practice was curtailed to a great deal in many countries in the twentieth century, and more modern statutes tend to define the rights and duties of a spouse without reference to gender.”
The new definition of spouse as “an individual person… with whom the first named natural person is engaged in an on-going conjugal relationship… seems to us to be craftily contrived, ambiguous and unnatural.