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OPINION: Decriminalise homosexuality – the most offensive and disturbing barrier to tourism

Saturday 16 July 2022 | Written by Dr. John Dunn | Published in Opinion


OPINION: Decriminalise homosexuality – the most offensive and disturbing barrier to tourism
(File photo) of Pride parade. Photo: Sam Sutherland, courtesy of Auckland Pride Festival/21030543

Cook Islands is noted internationally to have a poor human rights record.

The concerns cover journalistic freedom, disability, access to health, domestic violence, freedom of religion (new religions have to be approved by the Minister of Justice) and, most outrageously, on going criminalisation of homosexuality.

The Crimes Act 1969 contravenes Article 64 of the 1965 Cook Islands Constitution, which bans all forms of discrimination. Consequently male homosexuals can unconstitutionally get 7 years in jail. No one’s ever been prosecuted but that is hardly the point. They could be.

So any gay person, including half a dozen in my own extended whanau/anau, stepping off the plane in Rarotonga is technically immediately a criminal. I think you can see how this fits into our series on Barriers to Tourism!

Besides the persecuted gays themselves, many people increasingly seek ethical holidays. This means far more than solar power or eco-friendly shampoo. Many simply won’t spend their money where injustice reigns. There is a growing pool who regard Cook Islands in that light. It’s the same reason the All Blacks stopped playing the Springboks. It became untenable morally.

The same may pertain to travellers to this country. Many, including myself, won’t visit Fiji while the government remains unelected. While travel to unjust regimes is sometimes inevitable, or is motivated specifically out of interest such as when I visited North Korea, it can be avoided when alternatives exist. There are many alternatives for a sunny holiday.

Encouraging tourism would be a cynical reason to dump unjust legislation from the books but if it’s effective in achieving a just outcome then so be it. It seems we can’t rely on morals to do the job.

The correction nearly occurred late last year but the review process got derailed mainly, to their shame, by an influential advisory council. They took an antediluvian standpoint and prevented this hate law being dumped. Any discussion about homosexuality sparks a talkfest laden with Biblical quotes which is not my thing. However I do know that all great philosophies and religions value love, kindness and tolerance above everything.

So far I have written about some weighty things which hinder the tourist experience. These include dogs, rubbish, the environment and service. However these are all soft issues next to this fundamental abuse of human rights which our country has enshrined in law. I reluctantly draw attention to it publically again but it is a wrong which must be righted. Paradoxically of all the above it is the most easily fixed. Simply write a 21st century law to replace the current 19th century-style one, which is based on prejudice and discrimination.

While this would be following an absolute moral imperative, it will also remove this most offensive and disturbing barrier to tourism.


Edna Dashwood on 20/07/2022

It is not an unconstitutional statute in it's current form, actually. The relevant section under fundamental human rights and freedoms provides against discrimination on the basis of sex not sexuality. The preamble, whilst not enforceable, may be used as a guide to interpretation and that preamble gives a (rather strong)nod to Christianity. Overall, though, I find this writers (perhaps unknowingly) imperialist attitude where he thinks for some God unknown reason that he has the right to come here and tell us everything he thinks is wrong with the Cook Islands people, from their love of dogs to their values, as the greater offence. Take the time to feel the island and the way of it's people, without pre-existing expectations and you may well come to love both for what they are, not what you think they should be. It is that very same attitude of imperialism which introduced the Victorian era anti-buggery laws as there were originally known, into the Commonwealth in the first instance. On the subject matter at hand, I don't personally care if the moral values imparted by the Crimes Act are offensive to tourists. We all know its an antiquated law, that has never in living memory been prosecuted under, and essentially thus serves no purpose. But most importantly, it is an antiquated law which negatively affects some of our most loved family and community members who are truly of these islands either by birth or choice. Could Mr Dunne maybe enlighten us as to what it is he actually likes and loves about our people instead of constantly harping on down at us as if we are stupid and unpalatable? It doesn't bode well for harmonious relationships. Please also remember, that many tourists value authentic experiences when travelling. If one can not cultivate an attitude of appreciation for the people of a country, by being open to a different world view, good luck providing that requisite element.