Korea’s 1st lawsuit calling for gay marriage starts

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Korea’s 1st lawsuit calling for gay marriage starts

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Kim-Jho Gwang-soo, left, and Kim Seung-hwan arrive at the Seoul Western District Court in Mapo District, western Seoul, on Monday for a lawsuit filed against the Seodaemun District Office for rejecting their marriage in 2013. [NEWSIS]

Korea’s first same-sex marriage trial opened Monday at the Seoul Western District Court amid hopes in the local LGBT community that a landmark ruling in the United States might act as a breakthrough to legally recognizing same-sex couples here.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision announced June 26 made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. In a country with deep roots in Confucianism, Korea prohibits same-sex marriage and homosexuality is more taboo than in many other Asian nations.

But things are changing slowly. Local activists point to the growing number of participants in the annual Korea Queer Parade. Around 6,000 people were estimated to have joined this year’s march in Seoul on June 28. (See related story on page 10.)

Monday’s hearing, which was held behind closed doors, is in a lawsuit filed by the first same-sex couple in Korea to have held a public wedding: Kim-Jho Gwang-soo, a 50 year-old film director and LGBT activist, and Kim Seung-hwan, 31, head of a film production company named Rainbow Factory.

The couple tied the knot in a ceremony in September 2013 and submitted their marriage registration form to the Seodaemun District Office later that year. The office rejected their application, saying that the Korean constitution only recognizes heterosexual couples.

Calling the Seodaemun District Office’s rejection “utterly groundless,” the couple announced it would file administrative litigation against the district and challenge the constitutional court to recognize gay marriage in Korea.

The couple filed their suit on May 21, 2014, Married Couple’s Day in Korea. They argued that the decision violated domestic law that stipulates marriage is based on equality and freedom of will.

Walking into the court Monday afternoon hand-in-hand and with rainbow-colored badges pinned to their business suits, the couple vowed to fight for their pursuit of happiness.

“Today is a very crucial day for us and for all the sexual minorities in this country,” Kim-Jho told an army of reporters before entering the courtroom.

The movie director, who is considered one of Korea’s most prominent gay activists since he publicly came out a decade ago, said domestic law stipulates that all citizens are equal before the law.

“I believe that the Constitution guarantees the right to the pursuit of happiness,” added Kim.

The country’s Military Criminal Act recognizes homosexuality as a crime, for which one can face up to two years in prison. All able-bodied men in Korea are required to serve for 21 months in the military.

A legal challenge to that law was made in 2011 but failed.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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