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 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.”
A laissez-faire attitude has been taken to 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 by the knowledge that their equality is part of the law. There were plans in 2020 for a Gay Pride Day but it was cancelled because of the pandemic but there are high hopes of a Pride week in April, 2024.
The following laws are repealed: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)
debate about scrapping gay laws has been going on since 2017 when a draft
Crimes Bill included decriminalisation and public consultations began. 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 law. 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)
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: