On Friday Cook Island lawmakers made history by approving a bill which decriminalizes consensual same-sex adult relationships.
The Crimes (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill 2023 decriminalizes homosexuality, which under the Crimes Act 1969 was punishable by up to five years in jail. The bill was originally introduced in 2017 and went through several extensions to get here.
The Cook Islands is a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand. The Island inherited its criminalizing provisions from the British colonial period. English criminal law was imposed upon New Zealand and, therefore, the Cook Islands, according to the Human Dignity Trust (HDT).
However, the Cook Islands have only just followed suit in allowing LGBTQ relationships, while Britain and Wales decriminalized in 1967 and New Zealand in 1986. The Pacific nation has spent the last five years tackling this historic motion, according to 76 Crimes.
Within the last year, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands have led the way for LGBTQ decriminalization. Barbados became the third Eastern Caribbean country in 2022 to strike down discriminatory legal provisions and decriminalize adult same-sex consensual relationships after Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Kitts and Nevis.
“The Cook Islands are taking a leadership role, demonstrating to other countries that it is possible to examine and reject laws that stigmatize and criminalize LGBTQ people. This is progress in which other countries will find a roadmap for protecting their LGBTQ citizens. I hope this is encouragement for other countries considering decriminalization, as well as a discouragement to those countries increasing their crackdown of the LGBTQ community,” said Ross Murray, Vice President of the GLAAD Media Institute.
The new Cook Island law will take effect June 1 and will repeal the criminal code’s use of marriage as a defense against charges of rape. As of June 15, New Zealanders can also change legal gender markers without surgery; China passed a similar law in February.
Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said in Parliament that the government “doesn’t have a place in the bedrooms of our people.”
“We are a free country. We have freedom of speech. We have freedom of expression. We have freedom to worship. We have the freedom to observe our Sabbath, whether it be on Saturday or Sunday. We have freedom to start a business. We have freedom to work on Saturday or Sunday. We have freedom to love who we want to. We have freedom to be who we want to be. We all should have the right to live our lives free from discrimination,” Brown said.
“We all should have the right to live our lives free from discrimination. We say we are people of love and respect. Today, we are doing our job as lawmakers. We will remove a discriminatory and unjust law that goes against our constitution and our values as a nation,” he continued.
This news comes soon after Ugandan Parliament passes the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Act. The legislation is the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQ criminalization to date. The legislation will make it illegal for people to identify as part of the LGBTQ community. It defines deviators of the law as those whose sexual orientation and gender identity are “contrary to the binary categories of male and female.” In some instances, the law calls for the death penalty.
“The LGBTQ community has always existed in Uganda. Laws criminalizing LGBTQ relationships, identity, and even allyship, will only bring harm on an already marginalized population, along with their friends and family." @sarahkateellis https://t.co/9xCSaV64cZ
— GLAAD (@glaad) March 22, 2023
Elsewhere in the world, the Sri Lanka government is considering decriminalizing LGBTQ people by repealing Sections 365 and 365A of the colonial-era Penal Code.
“There is a Private Member Bill initiated by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Government MP and Attorney Premnath C. Dolawatte. The Government will support its position of decriminalising same-sex relationships. We are, however, not legalising same-sex marriages. But, we would decriminalise it. I think that there is a lot of consensus for that, so let that come to Parliament,” Mohamed Uvais Mohamed Ali Sabry, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, said to The Daily Morning.
UNAIDS, the world’s leading organization dedicated to ending AIDS on a global level, has applauded the Cook Islands LGBTQ decriminalization.
“Cook Islands’ latest move is part of a wave of global progress around removing laws that harm. It will inspire countries across the Pacific, Asia and the world to follow suit. Decriminalise, save lives,” said Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS Asia Pacific Regional Director.
We applaud today’s decision by Cook Islands lawmakers to remove laws prohibiting consensual sexual acts between men from the Crimes Act. Such laws obstruct access to vital services, including sexual and reproductive healthcare. Read our statement > https://t.co/wNvYVvfmBj
— UNAIDS (@UNAIDS) April 15, 2023