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RAROTONGA, 07 NOVEMBER 2019 (COOK ISLANDS NEWS) —Churches and representatives of the gay and lesbian community have explained their positions on criminalizing same-sex relationships.

Religious Advisory Council chairman Bishop Paul Donoghue says same-sex relationships can never fulfil Biblical ideals, because they cannot procreate “in the normal way”.

The Catholic bishop has issued a statement about the churches’ opposition to a Crimes Bill amendment that would have decriminalised same-sex intercourse.

After a prolonged two-year process in which MPs sought submissions the public, select committee chairman Tingika Elikana announced the reinstatement of clauses criminalising indecent acts between men, and sodomy.

Bishop Donoghue’s statement came ahead of last night’s meeting of Te Tiare Association, the lesbian and gay community group, to discuss their response to MPs’ about-turn on decriminalisation.

Spokesperson Valentino Wichman said the meeting was attended by up to 70 people who offered “overwhelming support” for the association’s work to clarify their legal position.

Te Tiare and the Religious Advisory Council were among those to make submissions on the bill; Elikana says the committee invited submissions and conducted public meetings, on Rarotonga and in the Southern and Northern Group islands.

More than 2300 people have signed a New Zealand-initiated online petition this week, to decriminalise homosexuality in the Cook Islands.

Wichman said the association would address its concerns to the select committee, and to lobbying Parliament’s other MPs, and embark on work to educate and raise awareness in the wider public.

The group wanted people to understand that removing same-sex relations from the Crimes Act was about acknowledging lesbian and gay people had the same human rights as everyone else, as protected by the Cook Islands Constitution.

After meeting with Elikana, the Te Tiare was confident the criminal clause would not now be extended to same-sex women – but the group remained committed to ensuring nobody was criminalised just because of who they loved.

“We will focus on the Constitution – we don’t want emotion and moral arguments to take over,” Wichman said.

“At the heart of this issue, there’s real people involved whose rights are affected – people who are part of our families, part of our communities, part of our nation. And so this is also about the love and acceptance that is embraced by every major religion of the world.”

However, Donoghue expressed concern about foreigners “manipulating and pressuring” the media to abandon Cook Islanders’ Christian principles. He said Cook Islands News was “favouring the views of foreigners” ahead of local people.

The Religious Advisory Council had made a submission on the Crimes Bill, Donoghue said, that was “very much wanting to remain faithful to the Christian principles valued by many of the citizens of the Cook Islands”.

Donoghue said the submission was not intended to start a crusade or campaign, but simply to take up the same opportunity as others did to address the select committee.

He urged the public to give time for due process: “Allow the select committee and the parliamentarians to make an informed decision based on their conscience and feedback from the nation.”

Bishop Donoghue explained the thinking behind the churches’ submission: “The intention of the submission from Religious Advisory Council was to express the Christian belief that God disposed man and woman for each other, in this way they are to live in love, be fruitful and thus become a sign of God himself, who is nothing but overflowing love.

“Church-going Cook Islanders, and I suspect many others, struggle to see how a relationship between two men or a relationship between two women can fulfil this ideal,”

He added “Love can be present in such relations, but they are not open to procreation in the normal way.” (PACNEWS)