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South Korea recognises spousal insurance cover for same sex couples in landmark ruling

File: Participants take part in a parade as it rains heavily during a Pride event in support of LGBTQ rights as part of the Seoul Queer Culture Festival in Seoul  (AFP via Getty Images)
File: Participants take part in a parade as it rains heavily during a Pride event in support of LGBTQ rights as part of the Seoul Queer Culture Festival in Seoul (AFP via Getty Images)

An appellate court in South Korea ordered the recognition of spousal coverage for same-sex couples by state health insurance in a landmark ruling for members of the queer community.

The ruling by Seoul High Court on Tuesday is the "first recognition of the legal status of a same-sex couple", said lawyer Ryu Min-hee from the team of lawyers that represented the plaintiff.

This order overturns a lower court’s ruling which stripped the same-sex couples of the medical benefits available to heterosexual spouses.

The lower court’s decision cited that marriage in South Korea is marked as a union between a man and a woman with no legal grounds to expand the concept to same-sex couples.

But, the court did not share a specific reason for its decision denying the homesexual couples of the insurance benefits.

Plaintiff So Seong-wook had moved court in February 2021 against the National Health Insurance Service after the body asked him to pay insurance premiums for not meeting the eligibility criteria of being his male spouse’s dependent.

He was initially granted cover by the agency under his partner’s employer-based health insurance programme as a dependent in February 2020. However, the decision was revoked on the basis of their same-sex marriage, Mr So said.

The plaintiff said he and his partner were discriminated against by the NHIS.

South Korea does not legally recognise same-sex marriages.

The landmark ruling has garnered praises for offering hope that prejudices can be overcome.

“This is an important decision that moves South Korea closer to achieving marriage equality. There is still a long way to go to end discrimination against the LGBTI community, but this ruling offers hope that prejudice can be overcome,” said Boram Jang, Amnesty International’s East Asia researcher.

She added: “By not recognising partners in same-sex relationships, the National Health Insurance Service was discriminating against same-sex couples, denying basic rights afforded to couples of the opposite sex. Today’s ruling will help to rectify this wrong.”

The researcher at Amnesty said that the ruling is “significant as the first decision legally recognizing same-sex couples to be made by a court at any level in South Korea”, but added that much more needs to be done to end discrimination against, and criminalisation of the LGBT+ community.

“This should include the adoption of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law and abolition of the Article 92-6 of the Military Criminal Act,” Ms Jang said.