A South Korean court says that same-sex partners should have government benefits

Improving South Korea’s legal gender equality by removing discrimination based on appearance: A voice of a gender rights advocate, Kim Kyeoul

In a victory for LGBTQ rights, South Korea’s supreme court ruled that transgender people have the right to change their legal sex status, regardless of whether they have underage children.

There is a person who refers to it as KUHN. Tom Rainey-Smith is a gender rights campaigner with Amnesty International Korea. He says his group has called on South Korean authorities to drop abusive requirements for legal gender recognition.

RAINEY-SMITH: When an individual is considering applying for legal gender recognition, you have to consider the fact that you may undergo forced sterilization. You may be forced to undergo surgery you do not want.

Because their legal gender does not match with what they think is their real gender, they are unable to get decent jobs. So we need an anti-discrimination law that prohibits discrimination based on appearance.

The author was called KUHN. Civil society has pushed for an anti-discrimination law for more than a decade, but conservative politicians and religious groups have successfully opposed the law’s passage. Kim Kyeoul says that while many obstacles remain, the ruling gives her hope that South Korea is making slow but steady progress.

The Final Judicial Decision on the Marriage of the Korean Same-Sex Civil Union So Seong-uk and Kim Yong-min

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The 32-year-old plaintiff So Seong-uk sued the National Health Insurance Service in 2021, after the agency revoked his status as a dependent to his partner Kim Yong-min.

In recent years, some same-sex couples in Korea like So and Kim are holding wedding ceremonies. Others have traveled overseas to get marriage licenses issued by countries that recognize same-sex marriage, or attempted to register their marriage at local public offices despite the expected denial.

That judgement was thrown out on Tuesday. The court said in its verdict that both groups are the same in that they form a similar emotional and economic community outside of a family relationship. To recognize dependent status in one group and not in the other based on sexual orientation “constitutes a discriminatory treatment.”

When Kim first met Seong-uk, they couldn’t come up with an official expression to describe their relationship. “Today, at last, our relationship is recognized in the legal system.”

A small number of lawmakers have tried to legislate laws for same-sex civil unions in the past decade, but no bill has even been formally introduced to in legislature because of fierce opposition.

The ruling may not lead to expansion of other social benefits, such as pensions, according to Park Han-hee, who represents So Seong-uk. But Park is still optimistic that the verdict will serve as a “crucial evidence” in the fight for broader rights, including marriage equality.

“If the court’s logic is that exclusion of same-sex couples from health insurance is unjust, then naturally, their exclusion from marriage should also be seen as unjust,” Park said.

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