A push to effectively delete sexual minorities from law is gaining support in South Korea’s parliament.
On November 12, Ahn Sang-soo of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party proposed a revision to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea Act. The Act gives the body the remit to investigate discrimination against anyone based on a list of reasons.
“The term ‘discriminatory act of violating the right of equality’ means an act which falls under any of the following items, without a rational reason, on the grounds of sex, religion, disability, age […] sexual orientation, academic career, medical history, etc.” (Article 2 of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea Act)
Ahn wants to remove the words “sexual orientation” from the list, and clarify that gender is either (biologically) male or female. It is the only Korean law that mentions sexual orientation.
His bill argues that the inclusion of the words sexual orientation “legally and actively protects and promotes homosexuality.”
Ahn also claims that “any sound criticism or opposition to homosexuality based on freedom of conscience, religion, expression […] is considered discrimination and is strictly prohibited,” which, he says undermines the fundamental rights of the people.
In other words, the people should have the right to be bigots.
Forty lawmakers — or about 20 percent of the parliament — signed the bill. The support predominantly came from Ahn’s party, known for its bigotry and xenophobia, but there were also backers from the Bareunmirae Party and the Democratic Party of Korea — the party of current South Korean President, Moon Jae-in.
Other sections of the bill claim the Human Rights Commission Act “adversely affects teenagers and young people before their gender identities are established,” and that “a number of health hazards in the world are occurring, such as the unprecedented surge of new cases of AIDS infections.”
“The Supreme Court and Constitutional Court consider homosexuality an act of sexual gratification that objectively causes disgust in the public and goes against a good sense of sexual morality; many people are also against homosexuality.” — Ahn’s bill.
Discrimination and hate speech against sexual minorities remain legal in South Korea because the country does not have an anti-discrimination law. A major reason for this is opposition from the homophobic “Christian” lobby group, which claims such a law would “homosexualise” young Koreans, spelling the doom of the country.
Conservative Korean newspaper Kukmin Ilbo rejoiced at the news of the potential deletion of the words “sexual orientation” from the law, saying the bill had “at long last been tabled.”
Korean LGBTQ activists and civil rights groups have condemned the move. Han Chae-yoon, executive director of the Rainbow Foundation, said on Facebook that the “logic and false information of the forces of hate are all included within the proposed bill. My heart is so heavy that I can’t breathe.”
The Anti-Discrimination Law Enactment Coalition, issued a statement saying, “Let’s clearly remember the members of the National Assembly who joined the [forces of] hate. Let’s delete their names from the list of members of the 21st National Assembly,” referring to the upcoming legislative election in April 2020.
This is the second time such a bill has been proposed. The first attempt was by Kim Tae-heum of the same Liberty Korea Party on September 19, 2017.
At the time, Kim was quoted as saying “We absolutely must revise the current National Human Rights Commission Act, which encourages and promotes homosexuality […] Looking at it from a religious standpoint, it goes against the basic principle of Creation, and from the social viewpoint it has an evil influence on community order.”
Kim failed to pass his bill; it was originally signed by 17 lawmakers. The current bill has more than twice as much support representing 20 percent of parliament and reflecting a growing atmosphere of hate by a vocal minority in South Korea, especially towards sexual minorities.
While homosexuality is not illegal, it remains taboo in a conservative country where Christianity remains the dominant faith. In some cases, young male military conscripts have been investigated for being gay.
In 2018, the Incheon Queer Culture Festival was met with homophobic violence, and in August this year, the Busan Queer Culture Festival was cancelled due to the homophobic atmosphere created by local authorities.
Recently, a “Christian” pastor with a large following who heads an “anti-homosexuality” organisation likened homosexuality to Nazism.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) has the authority to investigate cases of discrimination, but its power only goes as far as issuing recommendations. Those recommendations can then be rejected. Nonetheless, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea Act is significant because it sets an example for any future potential anti-discrimination law.
The NHRCK has been under fire recently after dropping a petition filed against former Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo for his hate comments such as “homosexuality is more harmful than cigarettes” as well as his persistent discriminatory remarks against sexual minorities, bereaved families of the Sewol sinking, and women.
It decided that “it is hard to say that Kim’s remarks […] caused specific damage.”
Two weeks prior to dismissing the petition, the NHRCK released a “hate speech report” urging action to tackle hate speech, thus drawing condemnation from civil rights groups for double standards and hypocrisy.
Update (22 Nov. 2019): This is an ongoing story. I have been keeping track of the latest developments on this Twitter thread (link). The bill was briefly withdrawn, only to get more co-sponsors on board. Currently, 44 lawmakers have signed the homophobic amendment bill.