A wind of change is blowing in the Cook Islands: discover how the country has taken a historic step forward for LGBTQ+ rights.
Lawmakers in the Cook Islands have made history by passing a law that decriminalizes consensual adult same-sex relationships. This long-awaited decision has been hailed as a memorable and liberating day for the local LGBTQ+ community. Dive into this article to discover how this small South Pacific island state abolished such a discriminatory law and paved the way for equality and acceptance for all.
The Cook Islands, an autonomous territory near New Zealand, recently celebrated a significant milestone in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights with the introduction of the 2023 Crimes and Sexual Offences Bill.
The history of this decriminalization process in the Cook Islands was full of obstacles and blockages due to weak political will.
The Cook Islands remained subject to archaic legislation dating back to British colonization, which imposed English criminal law on the Pacific paradise islands, despite the decriminalization of same-sex relationships in the UK and Wales in 1967 and New Zealand in 1986.
In 2017, a draft crimes bill aimed at decriminalizing same-sex relationships was presented, but politicians raised ambiguous "concerns" regarding its execution. Fast forward to 2019, LGBTQ+ advocates denounced the Parliament for not keeping its pledge to decriminalize same-sex relationships.
This time around, the law received government backing. The Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Mark Brown, asserted before the Parliament vote that the government should not regulate everyone's privacy.
"We are a free country. We have freedom of speech. We have freedom of religion. We have the freedom to observe our Sabbath, whether it be on Saturday or Sunday. We have the freedom to start a business. We have the freedom to work on Saturdays or Sundays. We have the freedom to love whomever we want. We have the freedom to be whoever we want to be. We should all have the right to live our lives without discrimination," said Brown.by Author
"We should all have the right to live our lives without discrimination. We say we are a people of love and respect. Today, we are doing our job as lawmakers. We will repeal a discriminatory and unjust law that goes against our constitution and values as a nation," he continued.
After five years of sustained efforts in favor of human rights and dignity, and several delays since its introduction in 2017, the new Crimes and Sexual Offences Amendment Bill finally ends the criminalization of same-sex relationships, which under the 1969 Crimes Act could have carried up to five years of imprisonment.
The new law will come into effect on June 1, 2023, reflecting the growing acceptance of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities within Cook Islands' society.
Beyond the decriminalization of same-sex relationships, this legislative text also provides strengthened support for victims of sexual abuse, assault, rape, and other crimes. This breakthrough reflects the collective commitment to open-mindedness and inclusion, offering everyone the opportunity to live freely and without fear of persecution.
But despite the legalization of same-sex relationships, same-sex marriage remains prohibited under the 2000 Marriage Amendment Act.
Parliament's historic decision was warmly welcomed by the president of Pride Cook Islands, Karla Eggelton. In an interview with RNZ, she expressed her gratitude to all the people and organizations who worked tirelessly to advance this cause.
"We are very grateful to all the people and all the organizations in our community who have worked tirelessly to make this happen," she said.by Author
"I think the message we want to send to people is: embrace your friend, embrace your neighbor, embrace your niece, embrace your daughter because now we are truly equal."
Ross Murray, Vice President of GLAAD Media Institute, welcomed this breakthrough and highlighted its importance to the LGBTQ+ community.
"The Cook Islands are playing a leadership role, showing other countries that it is possible to examine and reject laws that stigmatize and criminalize LGBTQ+ people. This is progress that other countries will find a roadmap to protect their LGBTQ+ citizens. I hope it is an encouragement to other countries considering decriminalization, as well as a discouragement to countries intensifying their repression of the LGBTQ+ community," said Ross Murray, Vice President of GLAAD Media Institute.by Author
Over the past year, the Caribbean and Pacific islands have made significant progress in LGBTQ+ rights. This is due to some governments protecting the LGBTQ+ community's rights.
In particular, St. Kitts and Nevis have recently joined Antigua as well as Barbuda and Barbados in abolishing the criminalization of same-sex relationships. This offers a safer and more welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ individuals living there.
While 66 countries still criminalize private and consensual homosexual activities, it is encouraging to see a positive evolution in the region, such as the example set by the Cook Islands.
The fight for LGBTQ+ rights is not over yet, but the progress made is certainly worth celebrating. It is essential to continue advocating for change and working towards a world where everyone feels safe and accepted, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Let's continue to push for positive change and create a future where everyone feels safe and welcome.
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