“Now we are truly equal,” said Karla Eggelton, president of Pride Cook Islands (Photo: Pride Kook Islands / Islands)
The Cook Islands’ LGBTIQ+ community is celebrating after the South Pacific Ocean island state became the latest nation to repeal the criminalisation of homosexuality.
On Friday, the country’s parliament passed the Crimes (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill which repealed legislation that could jail men for up to five years for engaging in “indecent acts” with other men.
The law could also be used to prosecute anyone who allowed a same-sex sexual act on their premises with up to ten years in jail.
“Today we have decriminalised consensual sexual activity that involves people over the age of consent,” said Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown after the measure was passed.
He said it was a “historical day” and the fulfilment of a pledge by his party “to stomp out discrimination of the LGBT community in our society and to uphold our Constitutional commitments to human rights”.
The repeal of the homophobic provisions in the law will save lives
Karla Eggelton, president of Pride Cook Islands, told Radio New Zealand that it was a “massive” moment for the country’s LGBTIQ+ community.
“And I think the message that we want to tell people is: hug your friend, hug your neighbour, hug your niece, hug your daughter because now we are truly equal,” she said.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) applauded the decision by the Cook Islands lawmakers to strip away the discriminatory legislation.
“Cook Islands’ latest move is part of a wave of global progress around removing laws that harm,” commented UNAIDS Asia Pacific Regional Director, Eamonn Murphy.
“This decision by Cook Islands will save lives,” said Murphy. “The abolition of punitive and discriminatory colonial laws across the world is essential for public health, including for ensuring the end of AIDS.”
Cook Islands comprises 15 islands whose total land area is 240 square kilometres (93 sq mi). While a self-governing state, it is in free association with New Zealand, which is responsible for its defence.