South Korean court awards same-sex couples medical benefits for the first time

Seoul, South Korea

A South Korean court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a same-sex couple seeking equal health care, overturning a previous lower court ruling in a ruling hailed by supporters and activists as the first recognition of such couples’ legal rights.

According to his lawyer, Park Han Hee, the plaintiff, Seo Sung Wook, was previously registered as a “spouse’s dependent” for public health insurance with the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS).

But NHIS canceled Seo’s dependent rights and introduced bonus payments after learning he was in a same-sex relationship, Park told reporters after Tuesday’s hearing.

South Korea does not legally recognize same-sex marriage.

Seo and his partner sued NHIS in 2021, citing discrimination, but lost in a lower court. They appealed the decision, and the South Korean Supreme Court ruled in their favor on Tuesday.

NHIS now has two weeks to appeal the High Court’s decision.

“After the first trial, despite the loss, I said that our love won, wins and will win. And today it demonstrates more clearly that our love has won and is winning,” Soe said Tuesday. “I am very happy that through this ruling, the world will learn more about the inequalities that my husband and I, as well as other sexual minorities in South Korea, have had to go through.”

LGBTQ organizations and supporters around the world also celebrated the decision.

Korean advocacy group Gagoonet, which includes the law firm representing Seo and his partner, congratulated the couple in a statement on Tuesday, saying it welcomed “the first decision in which the judiciary recognized the equal rights of same-sex couples.”

Amnesty International also praised the decision, with its East Asia researcher Boram Jang saying that it “brings South Korea closer to marriage equality” and “brings hope to overcome prejudice.”

However, Chiang added, the country has a long way to go. For example, it does not have an anti-discrimination law, despite years of campaigning and numerous bills.

South Korea has also drawn international criticism. its military penal code, making sexual activity between men punishable by up to two years in prison. In recent years, dozens of people have been arrested in what critics have called “gay witch hunts.”