An online petition has started to decriminalise homosexuality between consenting adults in the Cook Islands.
The petition initiated by New Zealand-based Cook Islander Sonya Apa Temata is in response of Parliamentary select committee’s decision to recommend criminal ban on sex between men to be retained and extended to women, in the Crimes Bill.
Two years ago, Parliament removed “indecent acts between men” and sodomy from a draft Crimes Bill but last week the select committee decided to reinstate the clause after an outcry from some members of the community.
The select committee’s recommendation to Parliament would reinstate a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment, and a sentence of seven years’ prison for consensual sodomy.
In the petition which had over 1000 signatures as of last night, Temata said the Cook Islands was one of several Pacific nations, which still criminalised same-sex relations between men and offer no human rights protections to those who are widely ostracised and often discriminated by their families and communities.
Temata said for many across Oceania (Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia), 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 recently here in the Cook Islands, Temata added.
“The launch of the United Nations Pacific free and equal campaign in 2014 was to end transphobia and homophobia, this also reignited calls in the Cook Islands and other Pacific nations to change the law.
“Aotearoa New Zealand has a long-standing track record and history of being the first country to ‘give women the vote’. The first country to have the largest number of openly gay or lesbian politicians to have served in New Zealand’s Parliament.
“As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, a collective approach to remind us all the reality of the issues that we continue to fight for and against. Resilience comes in many forms built on courage, mana and integrity. My sexuality does not define who I am … who I am and where I come from defines ‘me’.”
A number of organisations in the Cook Islands and abroad are backing the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBTQI) community in their cause.
Cook Islands Family and Welfare Association Youth in a Facebook post said: “
Our hearts are hurting today, there really aren’t any words to convey our disappointment with the decision reportedly made by the select committee for the review of our Crimes Bill.
“Love should never be criminalised, all genders and sexuality are beautiful and should be free to live openly and free of discrimination.
“We would like to invite anyone who feels strongly that this turn of events is not ok and wants to do something about it. This week we will be holding a meeting to discuss options and come up with a strategy moving forward.”
Te Tiare Association, the Cook Islands’ only lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBTQI) community group, will hold a meeting tomorrow to discuss an official response on the issue and a plan of action before the Bill is brought to Parliament.