In A Landmark Ruling, South Korean Court Recognises Same-Sex Couple’s Rights

Participants wave rainbow flags during the Korea Queer Culture Festival 2022.

In a landmark decision by South Korea’s Seoul High Court, same-sex couples are entitled to the same spousal coverage under the national health insurance service as heterosexual couples, according to Guardian.

For the first time in the country, a gay partner’s legal status has been recognized, and activists are hailing the decision as a major victory for LGBTQ rights in the country, the news outlet further reported.

So Seong-wook and Kim Yong-min, a married gay couple who live together, filed the lawsuit, which will now be heard by the Supreme Court.

The ruling overturned a lower court decision that a same-sex dependent was ineligible for benefits afforded other common-law couples by the National Health Insurance Program.

Ryu Min-hee, a lawyer for the plaintiff couple, said the High Court’s decision was the “first recognition of the legal status of a same-sex couple.”

The couple, So Sung-wook and Kim Yong-min, said in a statement: “We are delighted. It is not only our victory but also a victory for many same-sex couples and LGBTQ families in Korea.”

The plaintiff, So Sung-wook, filed a suit against the National Health Insurance Service in 2021 after being denied spousal benefits, but a lower court ruled in favour of the insurer on the grounds that a same-sex union could not be considered a common-law marriage under the current law.

According to Ryu, the appellate court said the spousal coverage system under the state health insurance scheme was not just for families as defined by law and that not granting the rights to people in same-sex relationships was discrimination.

Protecting the rights of minorities is the “biggest responsibility” of the court as the “last bastion” of human rights, the court added.

The National Health Insurance Service said it would lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court, the highest court hearing litigation. South Korea also has the Constitutional Court, which hears appeals on constitutional matters.

“This is an important decision that moves South Korea closer to achieving marriage equality,” said Boram Jang, Amnesty International’s East Asia researcher, adding that it offers hope that prejudice against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community can be overcome.

(With inputs from agencies)

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