8 Nov 2019

Rights advocates condemn Cook Islands' same sex relations ban

4:06 pm on 8 November 2019

LGBTQI advocates in the Cook Islands are decrying a move to maintain the criminalisation of sex between men.

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Photo: Wikimedia

Proposed amendments before Parliament, if passed, would legalise male same-sex relations.

But after two years of consultations, which involved the country's influential churches, a select committee has recommended reinstating clauses banning homosexual sex.

Co-secretary general of the International LGBTI Association, Tuisina Ymania Brown, said she was appalled.

"This is an opportunity to stand up and be counted not as a selective Christian nation, practicing some part of the Bible, and using other paths to dehumanise and oppress others."

As a signatory of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Cook Islands should do more, Ms Ymania Brown said.

Under the Crimes Act 1969, Cook Islands men can be jailed for five years for engaging in what's dubbed "indecent acts" with other men. People hosting these acts in their premises face up to ten years jail.

Debate over the amendments have sparked renewed calls for change, including an online petition to support decriminalising homsexuality that has gained more than 2500 signatures.

In majority-Christian Cook Islands, churches have become incensed.

"If we agree to decriminalise it, then it would seem that we are approving same-sex marriage," said Bishop Paul Donoghue, who chairs the Cook Islands Religious Advisory Council.

The body, which represents six churches, made a submission to the select committee calling for the ban on homosexual acts to be reinstated.

"We are remaining loyal to our Christian principles as we see them," Mr Donogue said.

LGBTQI advocates in the Cook Islands said the churches' influence was crucial in swaying the select committee's recommendation.

"The churches wield a lot of influence in this country, and their perspective has been heard by the select committee," said Valentino Wichman, a spokesperson for Te Tiare Association.

He added the group would make a new submission to the select committee protesting its recommendation.

Justice Minister Rose Brown declined to comment until the bill was before parliament.

The outcry over the amendments is the latest in backlash toward the Cook Islands LGBTQI community.

In June, the Cook Islands temporarily banned the screening of Elton John bio-pic Rocketman because of its gay sex scenes.

The film resumed screening only after intense public outcry.