Plans to repeal Cooks anti-homosexual laws cause concern
Cook Islands' sexual diversity group hopes to decriminalise homosexuality within a year, but some community leaders are concerned it could lead to same sex marriage.
A Cook Islands' sexual diversity group hopes to decriminalise homosexuality within a year.
Te Tiare Association supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and plans to draft an amendment to repeal laws that criminalise homosexuality.
But the group says people are confused about what repealing the law would mean for marriage.
Daniela Maoate-Cox has more.
For almost half a century, Cook Islands law has ruled that any sexual act between men is illegal, with a possible prison sentence of up to five years.
But the recent launch of the United Nations Pacific free and equal campaign to end transphobia and homophobia has reignited calls in the Cook Islands to change the law.
Te Tiare Association's secretary, Valentino Wichman, says LGBT people have always been accepted and repealing the law is the first step towards creating more awareness for LGBT issues.
VALENTINO WICHMAN: We've had a few comments and some people out in the public that do not support decriminalising homosexuality because they feel it's unnatural or it's not compatible with freedom of religion. For me, I personally think that culturally it has always been accepted but with the introduction of religion there have been interpretations which have put limitations on homosexuality.
The main sticking point over decriminalising homosexuality appears to be that it might allow same sex marriage.
Mr Wichman says many people incorrectly assume that same sex marriage would quickly follow.
VALENTINO WICHMAN: For us the starting point is decriminalising first and then probably later on, looking at marriage equality, and just to note, New Zealand, they decriminalised homosexuality in the 1980s and it has taken about 30 years for them to get to marriage equality. So I think the issue has misconceptions around what exactly we are wanting.
The Cook Islands Democratic Party MP for Titikaveka, Selina Napa says she supports decriminalisation.
SELINA NAPA: What the United Nations is asking is that we accept these people in society. For me and I think a lot of us in the Cook Islands, we've already accepted them in society as they are, and educating also our people that the relationship that they have entered into is not harmful in the society.
But she says she will not support same sex marriage and any amendment to decriminalise homosexuality would have to be clearly worded.
SELINA NAPA: I grew up in a god fearing nation, we are guided by the principles and morals of society from the bible. If there was a bill on marriage to be tabled, I do not want to be the one to table [it] and I hope it will never ever reach parliament.
The Prime Minister Henry Puna has said same sex marriage is not an issue and the islands shouldn't just follow what the United Nations or international community is doing.
His comments sparked a flurry of activity on social media about homosexuality in general with some supporting the separation of church and state and saying the law needs to be altered to reflect current attitudes.
The chairman of the Religious Advisory Council and bishop of the Apostolic Church in Rarotonga, Tutai Pere, says a widespread discussion needs to be held to find out what the public view is before any decision is made.
TUTAI PERE: That has to come from a three party position involving the three pillars of the Cook Islands, which is the goverment, the traditional leaders, and the religious advisory council all together can deliberate over and make [a] decision on it.
He says homosexuality has always been the norm and there is relatively little conflict between people of various sexualities.
Te Tiare Association says it will take about a year to get the amendment before parliament but the group is positive it can get it passed.
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