Annual Review 2016: Human Rights Situation of LGBTI in South Korea

2. Equality and Non-discrimination

updated 2017.08.09 11:56 by sogilaw

Movement against LGBTI equality blocks enactment of human rights legislation and ordinances

In 2016, the attacks on the principle of equality and non-discrimination for LGBTI people by “conservative Christians and anti-LGBTI organizations” (hereinafter “conservative Christians, etc”.) continued to strengthen and expand. In particular, the fact that "sexual orientation" was included as a ground for non-discrimination in the definition of "discriminatory act violating the equal right" (Article 2(4)) of the National Human Rights Commission Act was subject to intensive attacks.

On January 26, hate groups including the National Coalition for the Right Sexual Culture held the “The Harmful Consequences of and Need to Repeal the Provision on Non-Discrimination against Sexual Orientation in the National Human Rights Commission Act” forum at the National Assembly Member’s Office. One of the presenters said the non-discrimination provision regarding sexual orientation in the National Human Rights Commission Act is functioning as a “base camp for homosexual advocates”, and that it is necessary to repeal the provision since such people are using it to expand their influence in the legislative, judicial and administrative spheres.[1] In addition, conservative Christians, etc. continued to carry out campaigns to repeal the provision on "sexual orientation" in the National Human Rights Commission Act through various conferences, forums, statements, and legislative petitions.

The partial amendment bill of the National Human Rights Commission Act was withdrawn due to opposition from conservative Christians, etc. The amendment bill was proposed by 13 members of the National Assembly, including MP Jung-sook Jang of the People’s Party, on November 7, 2016, and aimed to issue public certifications to corporations and public institutions that implement best practices for the protection and promotion of human rights, and to provide them with benefits such as awarding advantages in state institution or local government contract bids. However, conservative Christians, etc. claimed that policies for corporate human rights protection under the National Human Rights Commission Act would “support and encourage homosexuality within corporations” and formed an organized opposition movement, which involved making telephones calls to the offices of the MPs who proposed the bill and posting more than 10,000 comments on the Bill Information system. Due to such opposition, the MPs withdrew the bill two weeks after it had been brought before the National Assembly.[2]

The attempts to enact human rights ordinances and charters in local governments have also been mostly blocked by organized opposition from conservative Christians, etc. Ordinance bills that contained expressions such as “sexual orientation” and even those with no explicit provisions that simply mentioned the “National Human Rights Commission Act” or “human rights” were subject to opposition.

Seoul Gwangjin-gu pre-announced the legislation of the "Ordinance Bill on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Gwangjin-gu, Seoul" on August 11, 2016. However, conservative Christians, etc. such as the “Gwangjin-gu Christian Alliance” claimed that the above ordinance bill would accept “heresy” and “encourage homosexuality” because it includes “religion” and “sexual orientation” as grounds of non-discrimination just as in the National Human Rights Commission Act. Conservative Christians, etc. launched a movement opposing the ordinance bill and Gwangjin-gu eventually decided to postpone the ordinance bill and not bring it before the district council.[3]

The City of Ansan had attempted to enact the "Ordinance Bill on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights" since 2015, but the deliberation at the city council was postponed because of lack of consensus in the community at the time. Ansan held another public hearing in June 2016 for the reconsideration of the human rights ordinance bill, yet it failed again to undergo deliberation due to objection by conservative Christians, etc.[4] Although the above ordinance bill does not contain any expressions related to sexual minorities such as “sexual orientation, the “Citizens’ Countermeasure Alliance Against Homosexuality in Ansan” said, "Though the current ordinance bill does not specifically prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, there is no guarantee that the concept of human rights in the ordinance bill will not be interpreted in such way that it will be used to advocate, encourage, or impose on others various sexual orientations”.[5]

In the City of Incheon, the “Incheon Ordinance Bill on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights” was brought before the city council in January 2016 by members of the city council. The ordinance bill was amended and passed by the standing committee of the city council, but was rejected at the city council’s plenary session on September 9, 2016. Although the ordinance bill originally defined “human rights” as “dignity, value, freedom and rights as human beings' guaranteed by the Constitution and legislation or recognized under international human rights treaties signed and ratified by the Republic of Korea and customary international law”, the amended version, which excluded the words "legislation" and "values guaranteed by international human rights treaties and customary international law" in the definition clause was passed by the Standing Committee, due to opposition from conservative Christians, etc. However, conservative Christian groups later reiterated their position that they cannot approve the enactment of the ordinance and pressured the members of the city council, which led to the rejection of the ordinance bill in the plenary session of the city council.[6] All attempts to enact ordinances related to “human rights” in the Incheon were subsequently foundered. Although the “Incheon Ordinance Bill on the Protection of Child and Youth Rights” and “Incheon Ordinance Bill on the Protection and Promotion of Youth Labor Rights” were proposed as separate human rights ordinances, they were subject to disapproval for reasons that "the parent law of the ordinance bills are human rights ordinances and human rights ordinances include expressions that induce homosexuality” and both were eventually postponed without the city council's deliberations.[7]

In Daejeon, on April 25, 2016, the “Public Hearing for the Enactment of the Student Rights Ordinance of the Daejeon Metropolitan Office of Education” ended 20 minutes after it began due to strong protests by participants who opposed the ordinance. Such opposition movements against the student rights ordinance had intensified and conservative Christians, etc. cited that, “The National Human Rights Commission, which is in a business agreement with the Daejeon Metropolitan Office of Education, has been supportive of homosexuality and thus the ordinance may aggravate homosexuality in schools in Daejeon” was one of the main reasons for opposition.[8]

In the process of the Chungcheongbuk-do Office of Education’s establishment of the “Chungcheongbuk-do Education Community Charter”, there was backlash from conservative Christians, etc. who claimed that the Charter would “permit homosexuality among students” since the expression “sexual orientation” in the National Human Rights Commission Act was included as a legal basis in the Draft Charter’s Code of Practice. Chungcheongbuk-do Office of Education eventually promulgated the “Chungcheongbuk-do Education Community Charter” on May 31, 2016, leaving out all controversial references.[9]

What is more alarming is that there was a case in which “sexual orientation” was removed from an ordinance that stipulated that residents may not be discriminated against on grounds of “sexual orientation”. On June 22, 2016, “sexual orientation” was deleted from the grounds of non-discrimination in the “Buk-gu Busan Human Rights Promotion Ordinance”. The reason for removal was that the provision “may be controversial with respect to social norms”.

In August 2016, the partial amendment bill of the "Single-Parent Family Support Act" initiated by 15 members of the Democratic Party, including Park Kyung-mi, aimed to prevent discrimination against various forms of family such as single-parent families. The bill includes a provision that stipulates, “The Minister of Education and the Superintendent of Education shall establish and implement measures to provide education, at all levels of school, to help the understanding of various family types including single-parent families”. However, the bill was subject to systematic opposition movements led by conservative Christians, etc. for its mention of “various forms of family”.[10] The Korean Association of Church Communication stated, "The term 'various forms of family', created in foreign countries, refers to the family structure of dual-earner families, cohabiting men and women, single-parent families, remarriage between divorced men and women, cohabiting homosexual couples, and families formed through the guarantee of adoption rights of homosexuals” and released a written statement claiming that the bill “encourages homosexuality”. In the end, due to pressure created by the opposition movement, MP Park Kyung-mi deleted the term “various forms of family” from the bill and changed the wording of the provision to “measures to provide education to help the understanding of single-parent families”.[11]

As such, the anti-LGBTI movement led by conservative Christians, etc., has expanded to opposing all legislation and ordinances that stipulate the values “human rights”, “equality”, and “diversity”, and this has led to a significant withering of the establishment of various legal systems for the promotion of human rights. Unfortunately, for the time being, it seems the movement against human rights related legal systems will continue to grow, as the National Assembly and local governments continue to accept the irrational claims of the anti-LGBTI movement, and accordingly withdraw or postpone legislation or ordinances in entirety, or delete clauses that are deemed “controversial.”

LGBTI voter movement during 20th General Election, the demands for the enactment of an anti-discrimination law, and the passive stance of main political parties

In the 2016 General Election for the 20th National Assembly, human rights organizations led an LGBTI voter movement and demanded LGBTI rights policies, including the enactment of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, as the main tasks for General Election. However, the main political parties maintained a passive stance.

On March 8, 2016, the "One Vote for Equality: Rainbow Vote" campaign was launched to demonstrate the strength of sexual minorities and their supporters as voters. Before the launch of “Rainbow Vote”, there was a poll to select for the worst candidates, who promote hate and discrimination against LGBTI people, as part of a pre-campaign. Park Young-sun[12], Member of the Democratic Party of Korea’s Emergency Planning Committee, was voted the “worst member of the National Assembly”. Park had previously made a statement inciting discrimination and hate against LGBTI people at the “Parliamentary Prayer Meeting Inviting Delegates from Three Parties to Set Right the Country and Church”, hosted by anti-LGBTI organizations in February 2016. In addition to “Rainbow Vote”, the Rainbow Voter Declaration Registration campaign was held with the participation of sexual minorities and those who support LGBTI rights. A total of 5,664 people participated in the voter declaration.[13]

“Rainbow Vote” also announced the 11 major demands on LGBTI rights, which included the establishment of a state-led “LGBTI Rights Action Plan” such as the National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, enactment of an anti-discrimination law that stipulates discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, abolishment of Article 92-6 of the Military Criminal Act, legalization of same-sex marriage, etc., and sent them to each political party asking for their position on the demands. The Saenuri Party, Democratic Party, and People’s Party refused to provide a response, and the Justice Party, Labor Party, Green Party, and People's United Party agreed with all demands.[14]

Meanwhile, before and after the General Election, human rights and civil society organizations emphasized the enactment of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law including sexual orientation and gender identity as a main legislative task of the 20th National Assembly. The Korean Women's Association United announced the “Core Gender Tasks for the 20th General Election for a Sustainable Gender Equal Society” and pointed out the “establishment of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law that stipulates sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds of non-discrimination” as one of the main gender tasks. In March 2016, the Korean Women's Association United sent to each political party an inquiry on their position on the core gender tasks. In relation to the enactment of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, the Democratic Party, the leading opposition party, deferred their response and explained, “Although we acknowledge the need for legislation on anti-discrimination, it is necessary to have in-depth social discussions on this issue”. The Justice Party, Labor Party, and Green Party all provided positive answers to all tasks and the ruling Saenuri Party refused to provide any answers.[15] Although the People's Party had originally responded "yes" to the inquiry, on March 29, through a briefing on the Party’s website, said, "The response to the Korean Women's Association United was a mistake made by our staff and is not the official position of the Party”, and “The People’s Party defers its response and believes that social consensus should be reached based on the Constitution”.[16] On May 26, 2016, the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy announced the “Legislative and Policy Issues to be Addressed with Priority in the 20th National Assembly” and demanded the “enactment of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law for the regulation of discrimination against LGBTI people and hate crimes” as a “legislative task for a safe society”.[17] On June 22, 2016, MINBYUN - Lawyers for a Democratic Society stated that it is necessary to enact a general anti-discrimination law as part of the "12 major reform legislative tasks" of the 20th National Assembly. [18]



[1] “Remove homosexuality reference ‘sexual orientation’ from National Human Rights Commission Act … Anti-homosexuality group hosts forum”, Kukmin Ilbo, 1/26/2016
[2] “National Assembly surrenders again to pressure from conservative Christians”, Voice of the People, 11/23/2016
[3] “Gwangjin-gu decides to postpone enactment of human rights ordinance”, UpKorea, 9/10/2016
[4] “Ansan’s Ordinance Bill on Human Rights, pending in city council for over a year”, Newsis, 1/30/2016
[5] “Ansan civil society organizations against homosexuality call for ‘withdrawal of ordinance bill on human rights’”, Yonhap News, 6/23/2016
[6] “Why Incheon doesn’t have a human rights ordinance”, Newsis, 9/12/2016
[7] “Christian Council of Incheon claims ‘child and youth rights ordinance encourages homosexuality’”, Kyeongin Ilbo, 11/18/2016; “Proceedings of the 234th Incheon Namdong-gu Council (Regular Session) Social and Urban Committee”, Incheon Namdong-gu Council Secretariat, 11/28/2016; “Ordinance for the promotion youth labor rights in Incheon foundered due to opposition from religious circles”, Kiho Ilbo, 12/16/2016
[8] “Daejeon Student Rights Ordinance goes astray“, Geumgang Ilbo, 4/26/2016
[9] “‘Be respectful and considerate’ … Chungcheongbuk-do Education Community Charter promulgated”, Yonhap News, 5/31/2016
[10] “MP Park Kyung-mi harassed by complaints on ‘encouraging homosexuality’ after proposing ‘Single-Parent Family Act’”, Women’s News, 8/16/2016
[11] “MP Park Kyung-mi to ‘remove terms that may encourage homosexuality’”, Christian Today, 8/19/2016
[12] “Kim Moo-sung, Park Young-sung ‘anti-homosexuality’ statement on tape … Two party representatives declare surrender”, The Kyunghyang Shinmun, 3/4/2016
[13] “Outcome Report of the Rainbow Voter Declaration in the 20th General Election”, One Vote for Equality: Rainbow Vote, May 2016, p.14 and under
[14] “LGBTI rights demands … 3 major parties provide no response”, Yonhap News, 4/1/2016
[15] “Press Release - Core Gender Tasks Demanded in the 20th General Election and Replies to Public Inquires sent to Political Parties”, Korea Women’s Association United, 3/2/2016
[16] “Matthew Shepard Act in the US, anti-discrimination law in Korea”, Hankook-Ilbo, 6/20/2016
[17] “Matthew Shepard Act in the US, anti-discrimination law in Korea”, Hankook-Ilbo, 6/20/2016
[18] “MINBYUN, ‘Pluralism in membership of Supreme Court Justices should be ensured, the right to nomination of Chief Justice should be abolished’”, Yonhap News, 6/22/2016