A new bill has been proposed by the Cook Islands government to remove provisions banning “indecent acts” between two men and “consensual sodomy”, with prison terms of between five and seven years, from the Cook Islands’ 1969 Crimes Act.
Although convictions are rare, according to Radio NZ, “The Solicitor General, David James, says the new bill makes laws suitable for the modern era, and means people will no longer be locked up for their private conduct. However, it will not legalize same-sex marriage.”
The next step for the bill is to receive public submissions, then go back to parliament later this year. One such submission came from Valentino Wichman, member of Te Tiare Association, the only LGBT organisation in the small Polynesian country of 21,000 inhabitants: “What people tend to forget is that there is a very real personal aspect to this argument of decriminalizing homosexuality,” Wichman explained in his submission. “Everyone has a family member or friend that is lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-sexual, and queer or intersex. There are real people affected behind this debate.”
Is homosexuality really a sin?
The move to legalize homosexuality is backed by some parts of the church, such as Tevai Matapo, a senior church minister and the president of the Religious Advisory Council. But he still holds LGBT Christians to be living in sin, as he explained to Cook Islands News: “If a person chooses to live a homosexual, bisexual, or transgender lifestyle, he or she is choosing a perversion of God’s good design. We must have a compassionate heart and encourage unbelievers (that’s anyone who chooses to live his/her life contrary to God’s word) to repent of their sins and have faith in the lord Jesus Christ. The only hope for the abolition of the hatred and mistreatment of any group of people, including those engaged in sexual sin, is in submitting to God and being washed clean by Jesus Christ.”
At Pacificans, we note that this view, coming from an interpretation of this passage from the Leviticus book in the Old Testament, is now receding. After all, it comes from the same set of Israelite laws that forbid believers to eat any seafood that is not a fish (such as clams, shrimps, octopuses or lobsters), wear blended fabric (cotton and polyester anyone?), eat pig, or that forbid women from touching men or go to church for two week after childbirth or when menstruating. Churches now tend to lean toward the New Testament message of forgive, accept and love. Jesus Christ never talks about homosexuality for instance. And he never taught that the State should interfere in the privacy of its citizens.
This tolerant view goes well with the traditional cultures of the Pacific, both from the Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian empires. They have always accepted both female and male homosexuality, as well as transgender people. LGBT tendencies is considered normal and this minority still have a very specific and important role in our society, such as child-care and cultural transmission. Hopefully this piece of old wisdom will be adopted in the Cook Islands, instead of one borrowed from a 2,500 years old Israelite tribe.
Illustration photo borrowed from Eiko Online