A respected leader has made an impassioned plea: speaking as a mother, she asked MPs to have the heart to protect Cook Islanders’ equal rights.
Lady Tuaine Marsters spoke as patron of Te Tiara Association – and as the mother of a gay son.
In a submission on same-sex law reform, she emphasised the message of love and acceptance preached in the local churches.
Marsters’ husband is Queen’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters. She said the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, intersex (LGBTQI+) community should not be discriminated against, based on their sexuality and choices.
The patron of Te Tiare Association, who made her submission in Maori, asked the committee to have the heart to understand the rights of the LGBT+ community as citizens of the country.
The committee chaired by Tingika Elikana had earlier said it would reinstate provisions that criminalised same-sex relationships in the Crimes Act amendment bill. If accepted by Parliament, this would reinstate a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment for “indecent acts” between two men, and a sentence of seven years’ prison for consensual sodomy.
But yesterday, after a local and international outcry, the committee sat again to listen to more submissions.
The committee will now consider the new arguments from Te Tiare Association and its supporters, before deciding whether to reverse its original decision.
Te Tiare Association president Valentino Wichman asked the committee to make a rational decision based on the facts and evidence – not be swayed by biases and subjective thinking.
Wichman said criminalising same sex was unconstitutional and discriminatory against the LGBT+ community.
“Human rights are universal,” Wichman said. “Everyone is entitled to the same rights. There are no new rights for LGBT+ people being created: We are simply stating that we should enjoy the same rights as everyone else. We are asking for decriminalising and equality, not marriage.”
University of the South Pacific’s Cook Islands director Dr Debi Futter-Puati also made a submission, as an advisor to Te Tiare Association.
Her argument was based on her doctoral study. In her survey of 674 Cook Islands college students, she said 9.1 per cent identified as LGBT+ and 22.7 per cent “refused or were unsure about” which categories to put themselves into.
Dr Futter-Puati said their unwillingness to identify was likely to have been linked with concern about potential victimisation or discrimination that happens to some members of the LGBT+ community in the country.
Committee chairman Elikana said the majority of the submissions received by them were in support of retaining provisions that criminalises same sex.
He also said the submission time was over and they were in the deliberating stage, hoping to make their recommendation to Parliament by February next year.