The Cook Islands parliament passed a bill on Friday, April 14, which legally decriminalises homosexuality. The Crimes (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill 2023 overturns a previous law that ruled homosexuality was punishable by up to five years in jail.
The prior legislation was published in the Islands’ Crime Act, criminalising so-called “indecent acts between males”. The law was passed nearly 60 years ago but was never enforced.
The newly introduced amendment legalises same-sex sexual activity between men and will officially come into effect on June 1, 2023.
WONDERFUL NEWS FROM THE COOK ISLANDS: Parliament voted to decriminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts! Congratulations to our local member organisations and communities, and to all those who fought tirelessly to see this progress happening! https://t.co/5IXpKjPDGW pic.twitter.com/4zdtxkdjyZ
— ILGA World (@ILGAWORLD) April 15, 2023
After the vote was confirmed, members of Pride Cook Islands stood outside the Parliament building alongside Prime Minister Mark Brown and Government MP Tingika Elikana to celebrate the moment while waving rainbow flags and fans.
Pride Cook Islands President, Karla Eggelton, told Cook Islands News, “On behalf of Pride Cook Islands, we congratulate our prime minister and his government for doing the right thing — Love is Love. Te Iti Tangata, hug the ones you love and now you can tell them they belong. We are one.”
Biggest love to Kūki 'Āirani (Cook Islands) on decriminalising homosexuality, outlawed as a result of English Christian invasion
Legal barriers remain for homosexual & akava'ine (transgender) Māori, who've been an integral part of Indigenous culture pre-dating colonisation ? pic.twitter.com/H6nwVkiV7M
— Strewth ?️⚧️?️?? (@StrewthQueen) April 15, 2023
Prime Minister Mark Brown called the amendment “A historical day in Parliament” and pledged to “stomp out discrimination of the LGBT community in our society.”
Brown added, “As lawmakers, we cannot pass laws that knowingly discriminate against members of our community.”
A historical day in Parliament as 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. pic.twitter.com/u1nuwOEBYl
— Mark Brown (@MarkBrownPM) April 15, 2023
Minister of Justice Honorable Mac Mokoroa expressed their support of the bill by saying, “It is not the job of government to tell people what their sexuality is…The government does not have a place in the bedrooms of our people.”
UNAIDS Asia Pacific Regional Director Eamonn Murphy applauded the bill, saying, “Cook Islands’ latest move is part of a wave of global progress around removing laws that harm. It will inspire countries across the Pacific, Asia, and the world to follow suit. Decriminalise, save lives.”
I got the news in the public. I had to take a moment to have a little cry. Just a few years ago, this felt like it would never happen. But it’s happened. It feels my heart up with joy for Cook Islanders ???
— Shaneel Lal ?? (They/Them) (@shaneellall) April 15, 2023
Unfortunately, arrests, prosecutions, and crimes against LGBTQ+ people continue to happen worldwide. There are still nearly 70 countries that criminalise same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, including 11 where it is punishable by death.
In decriminalising homosexuality, Cook Islands removes its name from this list, but same-sex marriage is still outlawed in the region under the Marriage Amendment Act of 2000.
The Cook Islands is a self-governing island country representing 15 separate islands in the South Pacific Ocean with roughly 16,000 residents. The country exists in free association with New Zealand.
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