‘Disappointment’: Cook Islands MPs extend same-sex ban

Valentino Wichman, the president of the Te Tiare Association. Picture: COOK ISLANDS NEWS

RAROTONGA, 16 DECEMBER 2019 (COOK ISLANDS NEWS) – After renewed political arguments about imposing jail terms for men who have same-sex relations, Cook Islands MPs are flying in the face of a pink-dollar boycott by unanimously agreeing to prolong the ban.

The tourism industry is “disappointed” at Parliament’s decision to drag out the same-sex to-ing and fro-ing on decriminalising same-sex relations another six months – taking it bang smack into peak season for visitors.

The select committee looking into the Crimes Bill this week asked for – and was granted – more time to report back its recommendations.

Sue Fletcher-Vea, president of Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council, called the delay disappointing – and issued a plea to pink dollar tourists to find some way to support decriminalisation that didn’t hurt their members in the tourism sector.

The committee’s earlier decision to reinstate provisions criminalising homosexuality in the Crimes Bill had prompted a pink-dollar tourism boycott led by overseas LGBT+ advocates.

Opposition to reinstating prison sentences for same-sex couples was loudest in New Zealand – by far the biggest source of tourists – where government MP Louisa Wall and other MPs signed a petition against criminalisation in Cook Islands.

Fletcher-Vea said there would be “some fallout” to the tourism industry from the issue.

But she said any boycott would also affect the members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT+) community who were an important part of their industry.

“The Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council is made up many members from different backgrounds including the LGBT+ community and any boycott of the Cook Islands could very much affect them as well,” Fletcher-Vea said.

“I don’t know if boycotting is the best way to support the cause.”

The primary concern for most supporters of same-sex criminal law reform is human rights – lawyers and LGBT+ supporters say the ban breaches the Constitutional guarantees that people will not be discriminated against on grounds of sex.

But the impact on the tourist industry of a pink dollar boycott has also alarmed many.

Initially the Crimes Bill select committee had planned to table its recommendation in February next year. An interim report was drawn up and expected be tabled in Parliament held at the Crown Beach Resort this week.

Instead, committee chairman Tingika Elikana moved to be allowed a six-month extension. With government’s majority hanging by a thread, Elikana’s support is critical – and his motion was seconded by government MP Patrick Arioka, a member of the select committee.

The Opposition Democratic Party (which earlier denounced same-sex ban) did not oppose this week’s motion to extend the ban – it was passed without dissent.

However, Sue Fletcher-Vea said the extension could also be a blessing in disguise as it would allow the LGBT+ community to rally support behind “this very important human rights issue”.

Valentino Wichman, the president of the Te Tiare Association, said the decision to extend the select committee’s deadline another six months would enable planning.

Te Tiare Association and its supporters last month put forward submissions to oppose the select committee’s recommendation. They made strong calls to decriminalise homosexuality in the Crimes Bill.

“Te Tiare have made their position known to the select committee and the general public in regards to the recommendations made in November 2019,” Wichman said.

“The support and solidarity has been overwhelming and comforting.

“Te Tiare reassures its members and the Cook Islands that we will be coming up with exciting events and awareness activities over the coming months to support our campaign for equality.”

Under the current Act, there is a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment for “indecent acts” between two men, and a sentence of seven years’ prison for consensual sodomy.

More Stories