Thousands of members of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community from Korea mixed with tourists from around Asia and beyond were hitting the streets for South Korea’s Gay Pride Festival today They demanded better equality in the country after Taiwan last month became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.
Homosexuality is not illegal in South Korea but the Seoul Western District Court dismissed a bid to allow same-sex marriage in 2016.
Meanwhile, across the street, hundreds of anti-LGBT protesters, mostly from churches, staged a rally and chanted slogans such as “No same-sex marriage” and “Homosexuality is a sin”.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in South Korea face legal challenges and discrimination not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Male and female same-sex sexual activity is legal in South Korea, but marriage or other forms of legal partnership are not available to same-sex partners.
Homosexuality in South Korea is not specifically mentioned in either the South Korean Constitution or in the Civil Penal Code. Article 31 of the National Human Rights Commission Act states that “no individual is to be discriminated against on the basis of his or her sexual orientation”. However, Article 92 of the Military Penal Code, which is currently under a legal challenge, singles out sexual relations between members of the same sex as “sexual harassment”, punishable by a maximum of one year in prison. The Military Penal Code does not make a distinction between consensual and non-consensual crimes and names consensual intercourse between homosexual adults as “reciprocal rape” (Hangul)
But a military court ruled in 2010 that this law is illegal, saying that homosexuality is a strictly personal issue. This ruling was appealed to South Korea’s Constitutional Court, which has not yet made a decision.
Transgender people are allowed to undergo sex reassignment surgery in South Korea after the age of 20, and can change their gender information on official documents. Harisu is South Korea’s first transgender entertainer, and in 2002 became only the second person in South Korea to legally change gender.
General awareness of homosexuality remained low among the Korean public until recently, with increased awareness and debate coming to the issue, as well as gay-themed entertainment in mass media and recognizable figures and celebrities, such as Hong Seok-cheon, coming out in public. But gay and lesbian Koreans still face difficulties at home and work, and many prefer not to reveal their identities to their family, friends or co-workers.
However, awareness of issues facing LGBT South Koreans has gradually risen, and polls have shown that solid majorities of South Koreans support laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination, including in employment, housing and public accommodations.
In August 2017, the Supreme Court ordered the Government to allow “Beyond the Rainbow”, an LGBT rights foundation, to register as a charity with the Ministry of Justice. Without official registration, the foundation was unable to receive tax-deductible donations and operate in full compliance with the law.
Additionally, the South Korean Government voted in favor of a 2014 United Nations resolution aimed at overcoming discrimination against LGBT people.