Renewed concerns over same sex ban debate affecting the tourism industry have been raised by the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation.
Corporation chief executive officer Halatoa Fua says “negative publicity” on the issue has been affecting Cook Islands reputation as a friendly tourism destination.
Fua is also concerned with Parliament’s decision to drag out the same-sex to-ing and fro-ing on decriminalising same-sex relations another six months. The select committee looking into the Crimes Bill last week asked for – and was granted, more time to report back its recommendations.
Fua said: “Cook Islands Tourism views the present debate over the Crimes Bill with concern.
“The pink tourism dollar represents a significant portion of the visitor market and this negative publicity will affect our reputation as a friendly tourism destination.
“Prolonging the discussion a further six months is not a positive development. It is hoped the (select) committee can conclude the matter quickly.”
The select committee’s earlier decision to reinstate provisions criminalising homosexuality in the Crimes Bill had prompted a pink-dollar tourism boycott led by overseas LGBT+ advocates.
Opposition to reinstating prison sentences for same-sex couples was loudest in New Zealand – by far the biggest source of tourists, where government MP Louisa Wall and other MPs signed a petition against criminalisation in Cook Islands.
MP Wall, who is in Rarotonga, spoke on the same sex ban at a Christmas Mix and Mingle event organised by Te Tiare Association, the country’s only LGBT+ group.
The primary concern for most supporters of same-sex criminal law reform is human rights – lawyers and LGBT+ supporters say the ban breaches the Constitutional guarantees that people will not be discriminated against on grounds of sex.
But the impact on the tourist industry of a pink dollar boycott has also alarmed many.
Initially the Crimes Bill select committee had planned to table its recommendation in February next year. An interim report was drawn up and expected be tabled in Parliament last week.
Instead, committee chairman Tingika Elikana moved to be allowed a six-month extension. The motion was passed without dissent.
Under the present Act, there is a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment for “indecent acts” between two men, and a sentence of seven years’ prison for consensual sodomy.