(CTN News) – The local LGBTQ community in South Korea is disappointed that the Constitutional Court maintained a law prohibiting same-sex interactions in the military on the grounds that it poses a threat to combat readiness.
A clause in the Military Criminal behavior prohibiting “anal intercourse” or “any other indecent act” while service and providing for sanctions of up to two years in prison was not declared illegal on Thursday by a 5-4 majority of the court.
Despite the fact that the law does not make specific reference to same-sex couples, this is the common interpretation, and LGBTQ groups have long fought the statute because they view it as discriminatory. Dozens of people have been arrested in the past due to legal action, and this has been criticized as a “gay witch-hunt.”
The court ruled Thursday that permitting troops to have relationships with people of the same sex would threaten military discipline and may potentially destabilize military authority.
It went on to say that “even if sexual actions are consensual,” they can still “do substantial harm to retaining the fighting power of the nation’s armed forces if conducted (while on duty).
However, the four opposing judges found the article’s phrasing to be “abstract and ambiguous,” and three of them warned against restricting people based on their sexual orientation for the sake of “military discipline.”
They also noted that it was “unclear” whether the statute forbade “indecent acts” solely between soldiers of the same gender or between soldiers of other genders.
An upsetting setback
The verdict was disappointing, according to Rainbow Action Against Sexual-Minority Discrimination, an activist group, and the court was criticized for failing to respect the rights of the minority.
However, many found solace in the dissenting judges’ comments, who urged caution in labeling same-sex sexual practices as aberrant. Dissenting justices argued that there is “no reason” to treat same-sex and heterosexual sexual conduct by service members differently where both parties consent.
“This is clearly highlighting the indecent act provision of the Military Criminal Act as discriminatory against sexual minorities,” the organization stressed.
East Asia researcher for Amnesty International Boram Jang remarked, “This continued endorsement for the criminalization of consensual same-sex acts within the Korean military is a distressing setback in the decades-long struggle for equality in the country.”
According to the study’s author, this decision demonstrates the government’s inaction in protecting sexual minorities in South Korea and the rampant hostility they experience there. South Korea has one of the largest standing militaries due to the country’s policy of conscripting nearly all males between the ages of 18 and 28.
As one of the few cases to reach South Korea’s courts, this one was taken to the Constitutional Court after lower courts determined there was a legal grey area surrounding the words “any other indecent act.”
Contempt for alteration
Despite the lack of legal recognition for same-sex marriage in South Korea, advocates report progress on LGBTQ rights. In a historic verdict from February, the court sided with a same-sex couple who had sued for access to the same healthcare coverage.
Proponents and activists hailed the ruling as the first formal recognition of the legal rights of such couples. When the government-affiliated National Health Insurance Service demanded premium payments from So Seong-wook, even though he was considered a “spouse dependent” of his male partner, he launched legal action.
Christian and conservative groups, however, have also increased their opposition in recent months. The Seoul Queer Culture Festival, South Korea’s largest LGBTQ pride festival, was forced to find an alternative venue for its annual event in May after being denied a permit.
A month later, during a demonstration against the Daegu Queer Culture Festival, local authorities led by the mayor battled with police. A court injunction was sought and rejected by opponents of the festival, who included Christian organizations. Mayor Hong Joon-pyo had criticized the event for “instilling the wrong sexual culture in teenagers.”
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