SEOUL: A South Korean court has for the first time recognized the rights of a same-sex couple in the country.
In a landmark ruling, the Seoul High Court found a government health insurer did owe coverage to the spouse of a customer after the firm withdrew it when it found out the pair were gay.
The men had held a wedding ceremony in 2019, but same-sex marriage is not recognized in South Korea.
Activists say the ruling is a leap forward for LGBT rights in the country.
However, the case will be challenged in the Supreme Court.
The plaintiff, So Seong-wook said he welcomed the ruling and “recognition of a very obvious right that has not been given”.
In 2021, he sued the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) after being denied coverage on his partner Kim Yongmin’s plan.
The couple had been granted coverage at first, but this was then revoked as the NHIS said they had made a mistake in granting it to the same-sex couple.
Celebrating the ruling, So Seong praised the court for seeing “the principle of equality as an important issue”.
“I think it has a great meaning for LGBTQ people who have been in a discriminatory situation, those who support them and all those who are discriminated against,” he told media.
The Seoul High Court overturned a lower court’s verdict. It found spousal coverage under the NHIS extended to not just families as defined by law.
It also found that denying same-sex couples such benefits amounted to discrimination.
“Everyone can be a minority in some way. To be in the minority is to be different from the majority and cannot be wrong itself,” the court judgement read.
“In a society dominated by the principle of majority rule, awareness of the rights of minorities and efforts to protect them are necessary.”
A Human Rights Watch report last year found that discrimination against LGBT people in South Korean society remained “pervasive”.
Same-sex couples without the legal status of marriage are often excluded from government benefits for newlyweds.
After Tuesday’s court ruling, Amnesty International released a statement saying: “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.” (Int’l Monitoring Desk)