Gay couple’s request for recognition shot down

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Gay couple’s request for recognition shot down

Korea’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Wednesday said it turned down a petition by a British man to recognize his marriage to a Korean man, which was granted in Britain.

“The NHRC has no official position on same-sex marriage,” a commission official said after announcing that the petition was dismissed on Feb. 11. “The decision to deny the request was based on an understanding that such a legal-related issue would first need to be reviewed at a policy level.”

The petition was submitted in 2017 by a 35-year-old British citizen, Simon Hunter-Williams, who asked that his marriage to a Korean man be legally acknowledged by Seoul since they married in the United Kingdom, where same-sex marriage is legal. Hunter-Williams made the request in order to obtain a marriage-based Korean residence (F-6) visa based on his relationship with the Korean citizen.

Same-sex marriage currently has no legal status in Korea, where a largely conservative public remains a barrier to its social acceptance.

The NHRC official stressed that the rejection of the request was not a denial of the validity of same-sex marriage, but the petition was beyond their jurisdiction as there is no legal basis for the matter. For Hunter-Williams to be granted a marriage visa, there would first need to be a change in the legal interpretation of marriage as a result of a “society-wide agreement,” the official added.

According to the official, however, the NHRC opposed any discrimination based on sexual orientation in terms of employment or property ownership.

In addition to his petition to the NHRC, Hunter-Williams had also submitted a similar appeal to President Moon Jae-in last year, but the Justice Ministry declined to review this request.

While this case is the first case submitted in Korea by a couple legally married in another country, activists have long tried to legalize same-sex marriage.

The most well-known of these was led by film director Kim-Jho Kwang-soo, who married another man at a ceremony in 2013 and filed a lawsuit in 2015 asking for legal recognition. Both a district and appeals court ruled against the couple in 2016, citing a lack of legislation.

Most politicians, for their part, have either opposed or remain reluctant to voice support for gay rights, largely due to vocal opposition from conservative members of society.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) stood out as an exception, saying in 2014 that he hoped Korea could be the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. Several DP lawmakers submitted a bill in 2014 that would grant a form of legal acceptance for such unions in the form of a “life partnership,” but the bill failed to pass the National Assembly.

Nonetheless, there is growing social acceptance of same-sex marriage from society at large. According to a poll from 2017, 34 percent of respondents - and 66 percent of those in their 20s - said they supported same sex marriage, almost double the number in a similar poll from 2001.

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