LGBTQ+ activists in the Cook Islands are celebrating a historic victory after the Crimes (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill 2023 was passed in the country’s Parliament.

The island country – which is located in the South Pacific – previously prohibited so-called “indecent acts between males” as part of their 1969 Crimes Act. Although the legislation was rarely enforced, it did carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

This new bill – which will come into effect on 1 June – removes the clause, effectively decriminalising homosexuality in the country.

The amended bill also provides improved protections for victims of sexual abuse, assault, and rape, among other crimes.

Cook Islands Prime Minister, Mark Brown, welcomed the result saying that “today is an exceptionally good day to be the Prime Minister”.

He added: “The role of any government is to protect its people and their rights. We are the government of all our people and not just the government of some of our people. And as a government we must protect the rights of all of our people especially the minorities on our communities.

“It is not the job of government to tell people what their sexuality is. It is not the job of government to absolve sin. It is not the job of government to tell people how they can or cannot have sex. The government does not have a place in the bedrooms of our people.

“We are a free country. We have freedom of speech, we have freedom of expression, we have freedom to worship, we have the freedom to observe our Sabbath whether it be on Saturday or Sunday, we have freedom to start a business, we have freedom to work on Saturday or Sunday. We have freedom to love who we want to; we have freedom to be who we want to be. We all should have the right to live our lives free from discrimination.

“We are a people of love and respect. Today we have done our job as lawmakers. We have removed a discriminatory and unjust law that goes against our constitution and our values as a nation. We have done what is right and what is just. We are protecting our people.”

LGBTQ+ rights campaign group Pride Cook Islands have long been calling for the change in law, with its president Karla Eggelton reacting to the news by commenting “we have made history.”

Karla added: “On behalf of Pride Cook Islands, we congratulate our Prime Minister and his government for doing the right thing – Love is Love! Te Iti Tangata, hug the ones you love, and now you can tell them they belong. We are one.”

Many LGBTQ+ activists across the globe celebrated the news over the weekend, with Drag Race Down Under star Anita Wigl’it sending a message of congratulations to Cook Islands’ LGBTQ+ citizens.