Seoul, South Korea
A South Korean court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a same-sex couple seeking equal health benefits, overturning a lower court’s earlier decision in a ruling hailed by supporters and activists as the first recognition of the legal rights of such couples.
The plaintiff, So Seong-wook, had previously been registered as a “spousal dependent” for state health insurance coverage, under the government-affiliated National Health Insurance Service (NHIS), according to his lawyer Park Han-hee.
But the NHIS revoked So’s rights as a dependent and imposed premium payments after realizing he was in a same-sex relationship, Park told reporters after Tuesday’s hearing.
South Korea does not legally recognize same-sex marriage.
So and his partner sued the NHIS in 2021 citing discrimination, but lost in a lower court. They appealed the decision, with South Korea’s High Court ruling in their favor on Tuesday.
The NHIS now has two weeks to appeal against the High Court’s decision.
“After the first trial, despite the loss, I said that our love won, is winning and will win. And today demonstrates more clearly that our love has won and is winning,” So said Tuesday. “I’m really happy that through this ruling, the world will be more aware of the inequality that my husband and I, as well as other sexual minorities in South Korea, have gone through.”
LGBTQ organizations and supporters around the world also celebrated the decision.
Korean advocacy group Gagoonet, which includes the law firm representing So and his partner, congratulated the couple in a statement Tuesday, saying it welcomed “the first ruling where the judiciary recognized the equal rights of same-sex couples.”
Amnesty International also praised the ruling, with its East Asia Researcher Boram Jang saying it “moves South Korea closer to achieving marriage equality” and “offers hope that prejudice can be overcome.”
However, Jang added, the country has a long way to go. For instance, it has no anti-discrimination law despite years of campaigning and multiple draft legislation proposals.
South Korea has also drawn international criticism for its military penal code, which makes sexual activity between men punishable by up to two years in prison. In past years, dozens have been arrested in what critics have called a “gay witch-hunt.”