The Cook Islands have repealed provisions in their Crimes Act and decriminalised homosexuality in their legislation.
The legislative change, under the Crimes (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill 2023 was passed into law on Friday.
The Crimes Act 1969 included a clause that stated Cook Islands men can be jailed for five years for engaging in “indecent acts” with other men. People hosting “indecent acts” on their premises could also face a punishment of up to ten years in jail. The Bill repeals this provision.
Celebration of a ‘historical day’
Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown called the decision to decriminalise homosexuality a “historical day in Parliament”.
“My party has fulfilled its pledge to stomp out discrimination of the LGBT community in our society and to uphold our constitutional commitments to human rights,” Brown posted on Facebook.
“Today we have decriminalised consensual sexual activity that involves people over the age of consent…Our team has agreed that while we acknowledge the beliefs of our individual members, the right thing for this government to do was to vote against discrimination and to vote for greater protection for victims of sexual crime, and that is what we have done”, he said.
Karla Eggelton, President of LGBTQI advocacy group Pride Cook Islands congratulated the Prime Minister and his government for “doing the right thing”, reported Cook Islands News
“Love is Love! Te Iti Tangata, hug the ones you love, and now you can tell them they belong. We are one”, Eggelton said.
Re-criminalisation And Decriminalisation
In 2019, the Cook Islands Crimes Bill Select Committee submitted a recommendation to Parliament which saw the reinstated penalty of up to five years imprisonment, and a sentence of seven years in prison for consensual sodomy.
The decision to decriminalise homosexuality led to public outcry, and Te Tiare Association, the Cook Islands’ LGBTQI community group, lobbied for changes to be made to the legislation.
Following the Parliamentary select committee’s decision to recommend the criminal ban on sex between men be reinstated, and its extension to women, an online petition was launched in 2019 calling for homosexuality to be decriminalised between consenting adults in the Cook Islands.
Fight For LGBTQI Rights
The petition creator, Sonya Temata wrote in her statement: “For many across Oceania, these nations cling to anti-gay laws enacted under colonial rule and the influence of conservative Christian missionaries. Those laws criminalised consensual sexual relations between males but not between women until just recently here in the Cook Islands…”
“Resilience comes in many forms built on courage, mana & integrity.. my sexuality does not define who I am…who I am and where I come from defines ‘me’”. The petition amassed over 5000 signatures.
Prior to last year’s election, all parties had voiced support for the decriminalisation of homosexuality for men and women.
Cook Islands Democratic Party leader Tina Browne spoke in favour of the Bill, “Our Constitution provides for fundamental human rights and freedom. It prohibits us from discriminating against people based on sexuality,” Browne said. “It provides that everyone should be treated equally,” she added.
Changes to the law will also provide further protection to victims of sexual assault and remove marriage as a defence against rape.