The draft Crimes Bill 2017 decriminalises homosexuality which is an offence in the existing Crimes Act 1969.
The Bill drafted by the Crown Law Office with assistance from the New Zealand parliamentary law drafting office (Parliamentary Counsel Office) does not include parts of sections 154 and 155 of the Crimes Act 1969.
These sections establish any “indecent act” between two men is punishable with up to five years’ imprisonment, and consensual sodomy is punishable with up to seven years.
The Te Tiare Association – the Cook Islands’ only lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, intersex (LGBTQI) community group – has welcomed this change.
While making their submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee for the Crimes Bill 2017 on Monday last week, association member Valentino Wichman said they support the progressive move by the government in removing “these draconian provisions” which were inherited from the colonial past.
Wichman noted that New Zealand and the United Kingdom have decriminalised homosexuality in their respective jurisdictions.
He added they would like to make sure that there were no other provisions that criminalise homosexuality in the Bill going forward.
“Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to make our submission of support for amending the provisions which criminalise homosexuality,” Wichman said.
The Te Tiare Association’s submission to the select committee, which has been established to undertake public consultation on the draft Crimes Bill 2017 and report the outcome back to Parliament, was broken into three perspectives.
The first presentation was by Te Tiare Association as the umbrella association for the rainbow community in the Cook Islands followed by the perspective of a parent in support of decriminalisation.
The third perspective was a personal account of what it would mean to decriminalise.
Wichman said in recent years, the issue of homosexuality and the stigma attached with it has become an ever evolving conversation point.
He said even though they have not experienced the extreme acts of violence and murder against the local rainbow community, they still have people living in fear as they feel shunned by their community or family.
“What people tend to forget is that there is a very real personal aspect to this argument of decriminalising homosexuality,” Wichman said.
“Everyone has a family member or friend that is lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-sexual, and queer or intersex. There are real people affected behind this debate.”