Gay hiking

South Korean court overturns soldiers’ same-sex convictions

SEOUL, April 21 (Reuters) – South Korea’s top court on Thursday overturned the 2019 military court conviction of two soldiers who were given suspended prison terms for same-sex relationships, in a decision hailed by an advocacy group rights as an important step against a criticized law.

The Supreme Court said the military court’s sentencing failed to take into account that the defendants’ relationships, which took place in a personal space, were consensual, thereby unduly restricting their right to sexual self-determination.

“Punishing these incidents could (…) undermine the right to equality, dignity and worth as a human being and the right to pursue happiness as guaranteed by the Constitution”, declared the Supreme Court in its decision.

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Homosexual activity is not illegal for South Korean civilians, but same-sex relations for men in the military have been subject to criminal penalties.

The Department of Defense said it would thoroughly examine “the intent of the Supreme Court’s decision”. In the past, South Korean authorities have defended the military code against same-sex relations as necessary to maintain discipline.

The two defendants were indicted in 2017 for having had same-sex relationships in 2016, while off duty and off base, which carries a prison sentence of up to two years under military criminal law.

Rights groups have for years been calling on South Korea to decriminalize same-sex relationships for men in the military, warning that the laws fuel violence, discrimination and stigma against men. homosexual soldiers.

“This Supreme Court ruling will serve as a milestone in the long debate over this law,” the Korea Center for Military Human Rights said in a statement.

The military law is being reviewed by the Constitutional Court after numerous petitions were filed against it, and the center urged the court to quickly complete its review of what it called an “obsolete and bad” law.

The death last year of South Korea’s first known transgender soldier sparked a debate over how sexual minorities in the military are treated in a country that requires all able-bodied men to serve for at least 18 months .

The soldier, Byun Hui-su, was found dead in her home a year after being released for undergoing sex reassignment surgery.

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Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Joori Roh; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Robert Birsel

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