Cook Islands again delays bill to decriminalize homosexuality

The Cook Islands has delayed a move to repeal its anti-homosexuality law.

The Cook Island Pride logo from Te Tiare Association, the country’s most prominent LGBT advocacy group.

The Cook Islands Parliament voted to give the committee studying its proposed new Crimes Bill — which as currently drafted removes provisions criminalizing sexual contact between males — another six months to table its final report.

The current Crimes Act 1969 criminalizes “sodomy,” “indecency between males” and “keeping place of resort for homosexual acts.” Prosecutions have been rare, however.

The new Crimes Bill was first proposed in 2017, though it didn’t finish public consultations before the 2018 elections. The committee studying the bill has already received several extensions, and drew controversy in 2019 when it reinserted the sections that criminalized homosexuality, and expanded them to include sex acts between women. The current proposed draft has removed those sections again.

The latest extension is to allow the Parliamentary Counsel Office (PCO) of New Zealand to review the draft Crimes Bill before it returns to Parliament for a final vote. The Cook Islands is a self-governing country within the Realm of New Zealand.

A spokesperson for the office of the Prime Minister, Jaewynn McKay, told CookIslandsNews.com that the PCO was asked to review the final draft “to ensure that it does not contain any clauses that discriminate.”

The chair of the select committee reviewing the bill, Pukapuka MP Tingika Elikana told CookIslandsNews.com that he “is hoping” this is the final request for an extension on the bill.

The move to decriminalize homosexuality has drawn criticism from Christian groups in the islands, but has drawn support from traditional tribal leaders as well as tourism and business groups.

Several countries in Oceania have decriminalized homosexuality in the last decade, including Fiji (2010), Palau (2014), and Nauru (2016). Homosexual acts remain criminalized in Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Tonga.

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Written by Rob Salerno

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