South Korea just legally recognised same-sex couples for the very first time

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South Korea has recognised the legal status of same-sex couples for the first time, by allowing them to have the same health insurance rights as heterosexual couples.

The landmark ruling comes after Seoul High Court overturned a ruling by a lower court in January. The higher court found a health insurer did owe coverage to the spouse of one of its customers after the firm withdrew it after discovering the pair were gay.

In a brief statement, a judge said the insurance service would now have to revoke insurance contributions imposed on one of the spouses. The insurers will also have to pay the legal costs of both sides, according to reports.

The move is the first time that South Korea has recognised same-sex partners’ legal rights – although the country still doesn’t recognise same-sex marriage.

The couple – So Sung-uk and Kim Yong-min – told the Korea Herald the process was long but they were happy with the outcome.

“I am delighted because I felt like the judges told us through a court decision that the feelings of love I have for my husband should not be the target of ignorance or insults,” So said.

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Kim added: “It took us such a long time to have our marriage status recognised within the legal framework.”

Despite holding a wedding ceremony in 2019, the couple could not legally register their union.

Kim was registered on So’s insurance scheme as a spousal dependant but the insurance company ordered Kim to pay contributions as well due to the pair not being legally married.

However, the high court ruled that spousal coverage was not limited to legally defined families – married couples – and that denying that right was discrimination.

“This is an important decision that moves South Korea closer to achieving marriage equality,” Amnesty International’s east Asia researcher Boram Jang said.

“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,” Jang continued.

“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.”

Reports say the ruling may be challenged in the Supreme Court.