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Why South Korea must repeal its military sodomy law

Why South Korea must repeal its military sodomy law

Soldiers in South Korea (Photo: Republic of Korea Army / Facebook)

Rights groups this week urged South Korea to repeal a sodomy law that punishes sexual acts between soldiers with up to two years in prison.

‘South Korea’s military sodomy law is a blight on the country’s human rights record and multiple human rights bodies have called for its abolition’ said Graeme Reid of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The law punishes servicemen for ‘disgraceful conduct’. Prosecutors can apply it even if the sexual acts took place outside military facilities.

Two years of military service is compulsory for all able-bodied South Korean men.

Homosexuality is legal in South Korea. But, conservative attitudes, especially among Christians, force many LGBTI Koreans to live in the closet.

What’s more, there is currently no discrimination legislation to protect LGBTI Koreans. Same-sex marriage is also not legal.

Witch hunt

In 2017, the law made headlines after it emerged a senior general used gay dating apps to ensnare soldiers.

His so-called ‘gay witch hunt’ reportedly revealed 50 soldiers.

In May that year, a court found an Army captain guilty of having sex with another soldier. It sentenced him to six months in prison. But, the sentence was suspended for one year.

In August, the government said it would review the law.

HRW filed a briefing with South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Thursday (7 March) against the rights-abusing law.

‘Criminalizing adult consensual same-sex conduct should be relegated to the history books – it has no place in Korean society’ said Reid.

South Korea has recently defended the ban. It told the UN ‘indecent conduct’ charges are necessary for maintaining discipline in the predominantly male military.

Soldiers in South Korea (Photo: Republic of Korea Army / Facebook)
Soldiers in South Korea (Photo: Republic of Korea Army / Facebook)

Slipping on LGBTI rights

South Korea’s fledging LGBTI movement has triggered a conservative backlash, HRW warned earlier this year.

In its 2019 world report, HRW said leaders had done little to protect the rights of LGBTI people in South Korea.

The rights group noted 210,000 people had signed a petition against a pride parade in capital, Seoul. Anti-LGBTI protestors also blocked a pride festival in Incheon.

Government education guidelines on sex education also discriminate against LGBT youth, HRW warned.

Organizers of the largest LGBTI pride event in South Korea this month urged the government not to give in to conservative groups and protect attendees.

Pride events in Korea are increasingly under attack from conservative Christians. The groups pressure authorities to deny permission and violently disrupt activities.

The National Human Rights Commission claimed it not ‘deny’ the rights of a same-sex couple to marry.

But, it also rejected a petition filed by a British and South Korean gay couple. They got married overseas and asked for their marriage to be recognized.

See also

South Korea rights body claims it does not ‘deny’ same-sex marriage

Pride organizers in South Korea urge police to protect their rights

South Koreans opposing gay rights are less than 50% for the first time