A court in South Korea rejected a lawsuit brought by a gay couple attempting to gain equal access to health care benefits Friday — a ruling that advocates say highlights the struggles of LGBTQ people trying to gain rights in the country.
The lawsuit, filed last year by So Seong-wook, challenged South Korea’s National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) after it took away his ability to receive spousal benefits from the employer of his partner Kim Yong-min.
“The union of a man and woman is still considered the fundamental element of marriage, according to civil law, precedents of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court and the general perception of society,” the court ruled, according to the United Press International (UPI).
The couple is not married as same-sex marriage is not recognized in South Korea.
However, according to the Korea Herald, the NHIS allowed Kim to register So as his dependent in early 2020 — later reversing the decision citing their same-sex marriage. It was believed to be the first such case in the country.
In the lawsuit, So claimed he and his partner were discriminated against because the NHIS grants spousal coverage to common-law partners, often used by opposite-sex couples who are not married.
“Under the current legal system, it is difficult to evaluate the relationship between two people of the same sex as a common-law relationship,” said the ruling.
At a press conference, So told reporters that they plan to appeal the decision, adding: “I believe a world in which people can live equally is coming soon.”
“Even though the court has left it as a matter for the legislative branch, we will continue to fight until the day that our relationship is recognized,” Kim said outside the court. “I believe that love will eventually win.”
Advocates in South Korea said Friday’s ruling was a missed opportunity to move LGBTQ rights forward in the country, where there are also no anti-discrimination laws protecting sexual and gender minorities.
“The court could have made a more meaningful decision on the case, but they are trying to avoid touching this issue,” Lee Jong-geol, general director of LGBTQ advocacy group Chingusai, told UPI after the verdict.
“But [the case] may help push the country to see that this is an unavoidable issue that we need to do something about,” he said.