A gay couple in South Korea has filed a lawsuit that could create a precedent for gay couples’ rights within the country.
According to the Korea Herald, So Seong-wook (30) and Kim Yong-min (29) have sued the state health insurer for canceling So’s health care coverage. So was labeled as a dependent under Kim’s employer-based health insurance program. Then in October of 2020, the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) reversed that decision. So was then charged a separate premium. In response, the couple filed a lawsuit against the NHIS with the Seoul Administrative Court on Thursday, February 25.
“When we first applied, we were wondering if it would be accepted,” Kim said at a press conference outside the court on Thursday, according to United Press International. “But it was initially accepted, and we enjoyed our natural rights as a couple for eight months. However, after the article, the NHIS suddenly took away our rights. This lawsuit is to reclaim our lost rights.”
“The NHIS’ core value and purpose is to improve people’s lives, so same-sex couples like us should also be protected by the system,” Kim added. “The NHIS has gone against its own values, so we plan to reclaim our rights by taking legal action.”
LOOK: South Korean same-sex couple So Seong-wook and Kim Yong-min attend a press conference as they file a lawsuit against the National Health Insurance Service for their dependent family status, at the Seoul Administrative Court in Seoul on Feb. 18. | 📷Jung Yeon-je / AFP pic.twitter.com/zJdW2AXHiw
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Kim and So argue that it is unfair for the NHIS to deny So benefits as the spouse of a subscriber because of his gender. He then argued that by law, the NHIS is supposed to grant such benefits to partners.
South Korea currently does not legally recognize gay marriage or civil unions. Several challenges have been made to this part of the law in the past two decades. In 2004, the Sexual Minorities Committee filed a formal complaint against the Incheon District Court’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriage. The complaint was later rejected.
In 2015, gay couple Kim Jho Kwang-soo and Kim Seung-Hwan filed a lawsuit seeking legal status for their marriage after their marriage registration form was rejected by authorities in Seoul. The Seoul Western District Court later ruled against the couple and argued that the lack of legislation supporting same-sex marriage made the couple’s marriage impossible.
Lastly in 2019, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea rejected a petition by a British-South Korean gay couple. The couple, Simon Hunter-Williams and his unnamed spouse, had married in the U.K., and Hunter-Williams was sought a spousal visa. But, the Commission rejected their marriage license with the same reasoning as the before-mentioned courts.
Due to the country’s continued rejection of rights to gay couples, same-sex partners have faced several hurdles such as the exclusion from low-cost housing loans or legal rights when a spouse or partner is sick or dies.
That said, there have been some minor steps forward such as Korean Air allowing a gay Korean couple who married in Canada to enroll in their airline’s family mileage program in 2019. In addition, a 2020 global survey by Pew Research found that 44% of South Koreans felt that homosexuality should be accepted. The number also rose when younger generations were singled out, as 79% of 18-29-year-olds were pro-homosexuality.
If So Seong-wook and Kim Yong-min were to win this case, it could create an important precedent for same-sex couple’s rights within the country.
“The lives of same-sex couples like us should also be institutionally protected,” Kim argued. “The National Health Insurance Service should embrace more diverse lives, rather than canceling the registration of dependents, saying that it was a mistake.”