After years of attempts, the Cook Islands have officially decriminalized homosexuality.
With the Crimes (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill, the group of 15 islands located in the South Pacific has rescinded a section of its Crimes Act of 1969 that said men who have sex with men could be jailed for up to five years and anyone hosting the acts on their property could be jailed for up to 10 years.
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The law has reportedly never been enforced, but its removal has nonetheless been lauded as a landmark moment for the islands, one that was supported by all major parties.
Karla Eggerton, president of Pride Cook Islands, called the amendment “massive.”
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“We are so grateful for all the people and all the organizations throughout our community who have been working tirelessly to make this happen,” Eggerton told Radio New Zealand. “This is big, and I think the message that we want to tell people is: hug your friend, hug your neighbor, hug your niece, hug your daughter, because now we are truly equal.”
Prime Minister Mark Brown tweeted, “A historical day in Parliament as my Party has fulfilled its pledge to stomp out discrimination of the LGBT community in our society and to uphold our Constitutional commitments to human rights,”
Brown also told Parliament, “We are a people of love and respect. Today we are doing our job as lawmakers. We have removed a discriminatory and unjust law that goes against our constitution and our values as a nation. We are doing what is right and what is just. We are protecting our people. That is what we have done today.”
“Getting consensus within my caucus took a lot of work,” he continued. “I want to acknowledge the individual views that the members of our team have on parts of this bill relating to the decriminalizing of sexual activity between members of the same sex.”
“Our team has debated this matter thoroughly in our caucus. While each of us respect each member’s respective views on this subject, we are also mindful of our role as lawmakers in Parliament,” which he said was to “protect our people and to protect our rights.”
Calls to update the Crimes Act began in 2017, but until now, attempts to do so were stalled by religious opposition.