On February 21, the Seoul High Court ruled in favor of the gay couple who has demanded the same spousal coverage from the health insurance as heterosexual couples.
The appellate court made the landmark ruling, overturning a lower court's decision that the plaintiff was not qualified as a dependent of his male spouse for the insurance coverage because there are no legal grounds for same-sex marriage in South Korea.
The lower court pointed out that marriage in Korea is considered a union between a man and a woman. The country has not legally recognized same-sex marriages.
However, the high court said that discriminating against a same-sex couple without any justifiable reasons is not in line with the principle of equality, although it is difficult to recognize such a couple as a common-law couple under the current law.
In February 2021, the plaintiff, identified as So Seong-wook, filed a suit with the Seoul Administrative Court against the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) which ordered him to pay insurance premiums because he is not qualified as a dependent of his male spouse.
Earlier in February 2020, the NHIS allowed So spousal insurance coverage as a dependent of his partner's health insurance program after he held a wedding with his partner, Kim Yong-min, in 2019. But it later withdrew the coverage, saying that a same-sex couple is not eligible for such a benefit.
The plaintiff claimed he and his partner were discriminated against, given the fact that the NHIS grants spousal coverage to common-law partners.
In January 2022, the lower court turned down his demand for his spousal right to the health insurance coverage. Then So appeal the ruling immediately.
Reversing the lower court ruling, the high court said that same-sex marriage is fundamentally identical to common-low marriage, except that the former is a union between homosexuals. It added that same-sex marriage forms the highly identical union based on emotional and economic needs and duties to support and be faithful to each other.
The appellate court pointed out that denying the plaintiff spousal insurance coverage constitutes discrimination based on sexual orientation. It added that the notion of living communities has become different from the past as times and circumstances have changed, calling for society's efforts to protect minority rights.
"The ruling is a victory for everyone who wants an equal society for same-sex marriage," the couple said, adding that "today we are recognized for our status under the current legal system," they said.
Welcoming the court decision, the Korea branch of Amnesty International said that the ruling has carried significant implications as it marked the first time in South Korea that a court has recognized the legal status of a same-sex couple. It called for more efforts to end discrimination against LGBTI communities, demanding the introduction of a comprehensive ban on all types of discrimination.
However, some religious groups and conservative civic organizations are likely to protest the high court ruling. It was not known immediately whether the NHIS will appeal the decision or not.
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