A new sexual moralityA Seoul North District court judge requested the Constitutional Court to rule that the existing law criminalizing adultery is unconstitutional. The judge claims that punishment for adultery is unconstitutional because the right to privacy and the right to pursue happiness provided by the Constitution also include the right to choose one’s sexual partner.
The Constitutional Court has already ruled on three different occasions that the law criminalizing adultery is constitutional. In handing down the ruling on adultery, the court has cited the necessity to preserve morals, the monogamous system and to protect society from family problems. However, changes in society’s perspective on sex over the last few years have led many to call for the abolition of this law. Adultery remains a crime in only a few nations, including some in the Middle East, and it is time for Korea to examine whether we, too, should stop criminalizing adultery.
Even when it upheld the law as constitutional in 1991, the court indicated that the law could be abolished in the future “in view of the legal codes in other countries and changes in Korean attitudes toward sexual morality.”
At present, a draft of the criminal act excluding the law on adultery has been introduced in the National Assembly and is awaiting a vote. However, the government can’t forever check under the covers to ferret out “criminals.” The consequences of adultery should be moral and civil, not criminal.
Historically, the law criminalizing adultery helped protect women and their children. However, women’s rights have advanced in recent years. From 2008, Korea will abolish the family registration system that only acknowledges male heads of family. Discussions on whether to introduce a law punishing rape between married couples are underway. Moreover, adultery is no longer considered a “male crime.” Also, because accusations of adultery start after procedures for filing divorce begin, this law does not help families stay together.
There are those who still believe that the law should be kept to defend the integrity of marriage and the family. However, the movement to repeal the law on adultery is gaining ground among the judiciary and groups who advocate increased rights for women. It is time we respected and protected an individual’s right to decide on sexual matters. At the same time, we should come up with supplementary laws and a means to protect women and families in order to prevent any negative side effects of abolishing this law.