COOK ISLANDS FOR LGBT+ VISITORS

HOMOSEXUALITY HAS BEEN DECRIMINALISED

On 14 April, 2023 MPs voted to repeal sections 152 to 155  of the 1969 Crimes Act which contained offences for consensual anal intercourse and consensual sexual activity between members of the same sex. The change was effective from 1 June, 2023. Same sex marriage remains illegal and was never part of the campaign for change. ​The Cook Islands made international headlines in 2020 about plans to tighten already old fashioned laws on homosexuality applying them to women as well as men and increasing maximum penalties for breaches. But the current Prime Minister, Mark Brown committed to repeal if his party was re-elected (as it was)

Pride Cook Islands president at the time, Karla Eggleton who's also tourism CEO described the decision as"massive"

“I think the message we want to tell people is: hug your friend, hug your neighbour, hug your niece, hug your daughter, because now we are truly equal”.  

Prime Minister, Mark Brown said the Islands were now in the 21st century and tweeted:

 “A historical day in Parliament as my Party has fulfilled its pledge to stomp  out discrimination in our society and to uphold our Constitution commitments to human rights”.

The Prime Minister went on to explain why the change had to be made 

“It is not the job of government to tell people how they can or cannot have sex. The government does not have a place in the bedrooms of our people...We are a people of love and respect...We have removed a discriminatory and unjust law that goes against our constitution and our values as a nation. We have done what is right and what is just. We are protecting our people.”

WHAT IT MEANS FOR VISITORS

A laissez-faire attitude has been taken to LGBT+ tourists and there were no prosecutions under the old law. However, public displays of affection were considered offensive (and could still offend). There are no gay bars or clubs in the Islands. But LGBT+ people can now visit the Islands assured in the knowledge that their equality is part of the law. 

WHAT HAS CHANGED?

The following laws are repealed:
INDECENCY BETWEEN MALES: Up to 5 years in prison; consent is not a defence (Crime Act 1969) 
SODOMY: Up to 14 years in prison; consent is not a defence (Crime Act 1969)
"KEEPING PLACE OF RESORT FOR HOMOSEXUAL ACTS" (Crime Act 1969): Up to 10 years in prison for allowing premises to be used knowingly

The following laws remain:
MARRIAGE: Same sex marriage is illegal (Marriage Amendment Act 2000 and 2007)
EMPLOYMENT: Discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexual preference is illegal, although this protection can be limited by “doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed” (Employment Relations Act) 

CHANGE THAT TOOK SIX YEARS

Cook Islands Pride outside Parliament

The debate about scrapping gay laws began in 2017 when a draft Crimes Bill included decriminalisation and public consultations started. General elections in 2018 meant everything was put on hold. In 2019, in the face of opposition mainly from churches, the proposed change was dropped and a Parliamentary committee inserted a new clause extending the law which applied only to men to include women as well. It also included proposals for tougher penalties and prompted international condemnation.

A debate was scheduled for September, 2020 and the Islands faced bad publicity worldwide about its outdated laws. Things were batted back to a committee of MPs while experts in New Zealand also took a look at what was being planned. 

Another general election in Autumn, 2022 meant further delays but there were signs of hope when the Prime Minister, Mark Brown pledged to scrap the law if his party was re-elected. It was another six months though before changes to the 1969 Crimes Bill were debated, still with some opposition, and finally approved on April 14 making consensual homosexual activity legal from 1 June, 2023 (Photo: Pride Cook Islands Facebook page)

CELEBRATING THE CHANGE IN 2024

Celebrating gay price in the Cook Islands

A week long celebration of love acceptance and unity is how 'Pride Cook Islands' marked the first anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality.  "Anuanua" included a stunning wearable arts competition, a day of LGBT+ centred cinema, locally produced drama exploring life and panel discussions on hard-hitting topics were all part of the celebrations.  There was also a Ms. Thunderhips contest at the National Auditorium and a night of dancing. The organisers said they wanted to "paint the island with love, laughter and togetherness". And the consensus is that's what they did.  There are hopes this will now be an annual event (Held from 12-20 April in 2024)

THE CAMPAIGN FOR CHANGE

Lady Tuaine Marsters is the wife of the most important official in the Islands, the King's Representative and she's headed up the campaign for change. Te Tiare Association - the Islands LGBT+ organisation - of which she's patron set out four objectives: