LGBTQ+ Rights in South Korea – East Asia’s ‘Christian’ Country
17 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2019
Date Written: November 20, 2019
While South Korea outwardly appears socially, politically and legally intolerant of LGBTQ+, the landscape is contradictory and dynamic. Alternative sexual orientations, practices and gender identities are mostly legal, and a vibrant, largely open social scene exists. Activism has rapidly increased; polls show the younger generation accepting of LGBTQ+ people; and, the National Human Rights Commission, some municipalities and courts have expanded, or attempted to expand, protections. But conservative, heterosexual values dominate the family, workplace, academia and most social interactions. Same-sex marriage is not legal, and no enforceable laws protect against discrimination in employment, housing and other key sectors. The Military Code continues to discriminate, and major political parties either oppose or ignore LGBTQ+ rights. This traditionalist status quo is enhanced by an influential conservative, activist Christian demographic that distinguishes South Korea from other East Asian countries. After describing this landscape, we analyse three evolving legal areas that inform the future of rights: (1) official recognition of sex change by non-surgical transgenders; (2) elimination of the military’s prohibition against same-sex sexual acts; and (3) the conflict at Christian Universities between pro-LGBTQ+ speech and the conservative administrations. Christian activists have largely ignored the first issue, providing an opportunity to advance rights. They have engaged the second issue, and South Korean courts have rendered conflicting rulings. The third case may be a new battleground.
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