In a recent ruling, South Korea’s constitutional court narrowly upheld a law that bans same-sex relations within the country’s armed forces. This decision, the fifth time such a ruling has been made since 2002, has sparked criticism from activists who view it as a significant setback for gay rights. Under the existing military criminal act, members of the armed forces could face up to two years in prison for engaging in same-sex relationships.
The court’s decision, passed with a slim five-to-four majority, cited concerns about the potential impact on military discipline and combat capabilities if same-sex relations were allowed within the ranks. This stance has faced opposition from human rights groups, which have called the law “outdated and bad.” Notably, last year, the Supreme Court overturned a military court’s conviction of two soldiers who had been sentenced to suspended prison terms for engaging in a consensual same-sex relationship.
Critics argue that the law not only perpetuates violence and discrimination against gay soldiers but also contributes to the stigmatization of their sexual orientation within the armed forces. Amnesty International’s East Asia researcher, Boram Jang, expressed disappointment, stating, “This continued endorsement for the criminalization of consensual same-sex acts within the Korean military is a distressing setback in the decades-long struggle for equality in the country.”
South Korea, home to one of the world’s largest active armies, mandates military service for all able-bodied men aged 18 to 28, typically ranging from 18 to 21 months of service. This latest ruling reinforces existing restrictions on the private lives of LGBTQ+ individuals within the military, further highlighting the challenges faced by the community in their pursuit of equal rights.