Credit: Paran Koo

A South Korean court has allowed same-sex couples to receive the same rights, under the national health service, as heterosexual couples.

The landmark ruling, which occurred on Tuesday (21 February), marks South Korea’s recognition of social benefits for same-sex couples. This decision rewrites a previous ruling, which occurred in January 2022, that rejected a gay couple’s attempt to obtain shared health benefits.

In 2021, plaintiff So Seong-wook sued the National Health Insurance Service after the health agency revoked his status as a “spousal dependent” to his same-sex partner Kim Yong-min, CNN reports. The pair lost their case to a lower court.

So Seong-wook and Kim Yong-min later appealed the decision and the result was overturned by South Korea’s High Court on Tuesday.

“After the first trial, despite the loss, I said that our love won, is winning and will win. And today demonstrates more clearly that our love has won and is winning,” Seong-wook told reporters, according to CNN.

“I’m really happy that through this ruling, the world will be more aware of the inequality that my husband and I, as well as other sexual minorities in South Korea, have gone through.”

The high court, however, ruled spousal coverage under the state health insurance scheme was not limited to legally defined families, and that denying that right to same-sex couples was discriminatory, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

Protecting the rights of minorities is the “biggest responsibility” of the court as the “last bastion” of human rights, the court added.

Currently, South Korea has not legalised same-sex marriages or civil unions. However, over 30 countries
have legalised same-sex marriage in recent years.

In 2019, Seong-wook and his partner held a wedding ceremony, however, they were unable to legally register the marriage as same-sex marriages are not recognised in South Korea.

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

“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.

“This ruling is significant as the first decision legally recognising same-sex couples to be made by a court at any level in South Korea, but much more needs to be done to end discrimination against, and criminalisation of, the LGBTQ+ community.”