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LGBTQ+ rights lag in Pacific despite Cook Islands’ gay sex move

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A move to decriminalise gay sex in the Cook Islands is a welcome step but LGBTQ+ people in the Pacific Islands region still lack basic rights and risk discrimination – or worse – at every turn, activists say.

Lawmakers in the tiny island nation of 15,000 people passed a bill on April 14 to decriminalise same-sex sexual relations, a crime punishable by up to seven years in prison, although the law was rarely, if ever, enforced.

The measure is expected to become law on June 1. Announcing his support for the change in parliament, Prime Minister Mark Brown said the law outlawing homosexual activity – a vestige of British colonial rule – was “a discriminatory and unjust law that goes against our constitution and our values as a nation”. “We have freedom to love who we want to,” he said.

Activists had campaigned for change for more than a decade and the long-awaited parliamentary vote caused “elation”, said Karla Eggleton, who leads Pride Cook Islands, an LGBTQ+ group. “There were lots of tears, lots of hugging,” Eggleton told Openly by phone from Rarotonga, the country’s main island.

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