A groundbreaking decision by a South Korean court accords legal recognition to same-sex couples.

In a ruling deemed South Korea’s first official acknowledgement of same-sex union, the Seoul High Court decided on Tuesday that a gay couple may receive the same health insurance privileges as a heterosexual couple.

A South Korean judge this week decided that a same-sex couple enrolled in the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) should be granted the same benefits as heterosexual couples. The historic decision marks the nation’s first official legal recognition of same-sex partners’ social rights.

A groundbreaking decision by a South Korean court accords legal recognition to same-sex couples.
Image Source: The Guardian

The Case in Detail

So Seong-wook, 32, filed a lawsuit in 2021 against the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) when the organization terminated his position as a dependent of his partner Kim Yong-min based on the nature of their relationship. 

To formally announce their relationship in 2019, So and Kim had a wedding. The following year, the health insurance company granted Kim’s request to name So as his dependent, citing the same justification as why it offers spousal benefits to heterosexual de facto-married couples.

However, as soon as the couple’s journey gained traction in the media, the agency revoked its decision, claiming that it had been a “mistake” and So did not meet the requirements. Eventually, in 2021, a lower court decided in the agency’s favour, stating that the court cannot regard same-sex unions the same as heterosexual unions.

The plaintiff appealed the ruling to Seoul High Court. 

The Ruling by Seoul High Court

On Tuesday, the Seoul High Court court reversed the lower court’s decision. According to the high court’s ruling, both groups are “the same in essence” because they create an “emotional and economic community” apart from the legally recognized family connection. Therefore, it “constitutes a discriminatory treatment” to acknowledge dependent status in one group but not in the other based on sexual orientation.

The court recognized South Korea’s history of overt and covert prejudice against sexual minorities. However, it claimed that the nation’s laws clarify that “sexual orientation must not be a ground for discrimination,” citing a law passed in 2001 that forbade discrimination in hiring, education, and providing goods and services. Additionally, the court ruled that discrimination “has no place to remain” in public services.

The National Health Insurance Service has announced that it will challenge the decision to the Supreme Court of South Korea.

The Impact of the Ruling in South Korea

After the decision, the plaintiff, So, said, “Our love won and is winning,” in a tearful news conference.

His husband Kim recalled, “When I first met Seong-wook a decade ago, we couldn’t find any official term to describe our relationship.” “Our relationship is finally accepted in the legal system today.”

Kim urged for the legalization of same-sex marriage, stating that the win on Tuesday is “just one of the 1,000 rights that a legal marriage ensures.”

LGBTQIA+ groups and supporters worldwide also praise the ruling.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Korean advocacy organization Gagoonet congratulated the couple and said it was delighted with “the first decision where the judiciary acknowledged the equal rights of same-sex couples.”

The decision won support from Amnesty International as well. According to its East Asia Researcher Boram Jang, this ruling “moves South Korea closer to achieving marital equality” and “offers hope that discrimination can be overcome.”

The nation still has miles to go, Jang added. For example, despite years of advocacy and numerous proposed legislation ideas, it lacks anti-discrimination laws against the LGBTQIA+ community.

Similar Rulings All Over The World

In addition to Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Taiwan, 28 other nations have legalized same-sex marriage. A recent court decision in Japan upheld the ban on same-sex unions while acknowledging that same-sex families’ legal protections were lacking, violating their rights. Thailand’s legislators are debating how to recognize same-sex relationships.

The decision of the Seoul High Court emphasizes the need to resolve discrimination faced by same-sex couples whose relationships are not legally recognized.

As reported by Virti Shah.

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