Cook Islands: Cooks bill puts spotlight on Pacific's anti-gay laws

In Solomon Islands, being gay could bring Lachlan Demarchelier a jail sentence of up to 14 years.  The Solomon Islander moved to Australia in 2005 to study. He's able to live there openly as a gay person. But not so in Solomon Islands where he keeps a low profile on short visits home to visit family.

"I feel sorry for my friends back in the Solomons who are gay. I know people who are verbally and physically abused for being gay on a daily basis. They even get threatened that they'll be arrested and have the law thrown upon them," he said.

Homosexuality is illegal in Solomon Islands for both men and women, but in Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu, anti-homosexuality law applies only to men. The Cook Islands could soon wipe such laws off its books with a draft Crimes Bill in the consultation stage. The bill has excluded sections in the current 1969 Act, which ban consensual sex between two men.

Convictions are rare but Paula Gerber of the gay rights lobby group, Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation, hopes the law change will have a domino effect on other Pacific countries.

"There are still far too many countries in the world that treat consensual homosexual conduct as a crime and we're starting to see that change."

Professor Gerber is optimistic about the latest move in the Cook Islands, but she said decriminalisation is only the beginning of a long road ahead.

"There are still a lot of other things that have to happen before we get a society where LGBTI rights are fully respected."

"One of the things that must be done after you decriminalise is have anti-discrimination laws, so that one cannot discriminate against a person based on their sexual orientation or gender identity," she said. Read more via Radio NZ