Tingika Elikana said the decision was not based on the church’s view, but on consultations with people in Rarotonga and throughout the Northern and Southern groups of islands.
Elikana, the chairman of the Crimes Bill select committee, met with lesbian and gay community group Te Tiara Association yesterday, before issuing a statement in consultation with the Office of the Prime Minister.
He emphasised Parliament could choose to either accept or reject the committee’s recommendations. “That is the prerogative of Parliament”.
The committee’s decision to back-track on law reform was met with disappointment from supporters and members of the LQBT+ movement in this country and abroad.
An online petition to decriminalise homosexuality in the Cook Islands, started at the weekend, had attracted nearly 2000 signatures by last night.
Te Tiare Association is scheduled to meet today to discuss an official response on the issue and a plan of action before the select committee report is tabled in Parliament early next year.
But the committee’s decision to reinstate “indecent acts between two men” and sodomy in the Crimes Bill was commended by the committee’s former chairperson, Mona Ioane.
Prior to last year’s election, Ioane led the committee formed to look into the Bill. He they had received submissions against the move to decriminalise homosexuality in the Cook Islands, and he believed their committee would have made the same recommendation – if the election hadn’t intervened.
Ioane has sought clarification from former solicitor general David James on why “indecent acts between men” and sodomy was not retained in the draft Crimes Bill in the first place, he said.
There had been a number of submissions against decriminalising sex between men. Te Tiare Association, the Cook Islands’ lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT+) community group, made a submission supporting the draft Bill.
Last week, the new select committee chaired by Tingika Elikana agreed on provisions criminalising homosexual acts by men, or by women.
This recommendation, if accepted by the Parliament, would reinstate a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment for “indecent” same-sex acts, and a sentence of seven years’ prison for consensual sodomy.
Ioane said: “We were still in the consultation process when the general election took place. We had to present a report, updating the Parliament on the consultation process, however there was no recommendation made by our committee.
“We gave people the opportunity to speak on the Bill and from what I could gather, people want the provisions (on homosexuality and sodomy) to be retained in the Bill.”