South Korea: Activist couple test gay rights barriers in conservative South Korea

Growing up as a gay man in South Korea in the 70s and 80s, film director Kim Jho Gwang-soo was warned that his homosexual “disease” would condemn him to a life of loveless, insatiable promiscuity. “From an early age, my dream was to become a director, but instead of making movies I was apparently going to waste all my time and energy looking for sexual partners,” Kim said.

Times have changed. The gay rights movement in South Korea is currently riding something of a mini-wave in terms of support. Last month’s gay pride parade had thousands marching through central Seoul despite vocal protests by conservative Christian groups. And earlier this month, Kim and his longtime partner, Kim Seung-hwan, went to court to demand legal status as a married couple.

The two Kims are the most high-profile gay couple in South Korea and the lawsuit they filed over their marriage license is the first of its kind. Their lawyer, Ryu Min-hee, said she is pushing for the recognition of precedent in existing rulings where courts have struck down discriminatory family law provisions using the constitution’s equal protection clause. 

“This case isn’t just about marriage rights,” Ryu said. “LGBT people in South Korea are discriminated against in law and life and we want to share this story with the Korean public,” she added. “That’s our goal.”  Read More