The Supreme Court of Korea overturned a 2019 military court conviction of two service members of the Republic of Korea Army, also known as the ROK, sentenced to suspended prison terms for their same-sex relationship.
“Punishing these incidents could infringe upon the right to equality, the dignity and value as human and the right to pursue happiness as guaranteed by the Constitution,” the high court said in its ruling.
Under Korea’s civilian law homosexual activity is not illegal, but there are provisions in the country’s code of military justice that can lead to conviction and prison sentences for same-sex sexual acts.
euters reported the Ministry of Defense said it would thoroughly review “the intent of the Supreme Court’s ruling.” In the past, South Korean authorities have defended the military code against same-sex relationships as necessary to maintain discipline.
The two defendants were indicted in 2017 for having same-sex intercourse in 2016, while off duty and outside their base, which is punishable with prison for up to two years under the Military Criminal Act.
Korea’s civil and human rights group’s applauded the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Lim Tae-hoon, the director of the Military Human Rights Center, released a statementThursday after the ruling taking aim at the military’s position.
“How long will we leave a backward law that judges an individual’s private life in a court of law because he is a sexual minority?
With this ruling as an opportunity, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex sex can no longer be evaluated as an act worthy of punishment.”
Lim told Reuters the military act is under review in the Constitutional Court after the filing of numerous petitions against it, and the center urged the court to quickly complete its review of what it called an “outdated and bad” law.
Last year, the Daejeon District Court ruled against the ROK in a case over a transgender soldier who had died by suicide prior to the ruling that Staff Sgt. Byun Hui-su was already legally recognized as trans. The decision said the ROK Army should have used standards applied to women to determine her fitness to serve.
Ruling in Byun’s favor, the court noted: “When based on standards of women, there are no mental or physical disability grounds for dismissal.” The court then ordered the ROK Army to reinstate her.
Sadly there was no celebratory acknowledgement because on March 3, 2021, she took her own life and was discovered deceased by emergency officials at her home in the city of Cheongju, south of the South Korean capital city of Seoul.
She took the Army to court with the assistance of the Center for Military Human Rights.