Seoul Mayor receives backlash for supporting same-sex marriage

October 16, 2014
Park Won-soon is receiving mixed reactions from South Korean citizens after openly supporting gay marriage. (Korea Times file)

Park Won-soon is receiving mixed reactions from South Korean citizens after openly supporting same sex marriage. (Korea Times file)

By Jung Min-ho

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon has put himself at the center of controversy after he expressed his support for same-sex marriage during his recent trip to the United States.

Talking to the San Francisco Examiner, Park was quoted as saying, “I personally agree with the rights of homosexuals,” adding Korea would become the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) homepage was immediately inundated with comments, most of them complaints.

Park has successfully drawn public attention, but it remains to be seen whether this bold political gamble will help the potential presidential bid of Park, a liberal-minded former NGO leader.

Church communities are encouraging their members to express their opposition by making calls and writing posts to the SMG, calling on Park to recant his words.

On Tuesday, in a statement, the SMG said that Park simply explained the situation of Korea, but he stood by his words, inviting a torrent of additional complaints.

The Christian Council of Korea — the largest Protestant organization representing some 45,000 churches — is on record for its opposition to gay rights, not to mention same-sex marriage.

Christians account for about 30 percent of the entire population, a force to reckon with for any politician.

In the previous presidential election in Dec. 19, 2013, liberal contender Moon Jae-in pledged to explore “institutional alternatives” on the issue of same-sex marriage. But in the face of Christian backlash, he backed down, promising to “prevent laws permitting homosexual relations and marriages.”

The irony is that Park has not won the support of sexual minorities.

In fact, members of Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea believe Park is not doing enough to protect their rights.

In the latest statement aimed at the SMG, the activist group said, “With the bureaucratic attitude to just avoid any controversy, human rights cannot be protected.”

So was his declaration a mistake? Maybe not.

The Catholic Church made a “seismic shift” Monday after bishops said in a Vatican meeting that homosexuals had gifts to offer the church.

U.S. President Obama stated his personal support for same-sex marriage in the last election, making himself the first U.S. head of state to do so.

Still, gay rights are a potential hot-button issue for a potential presidential candidate.

A Pew Research survey last year showed 59 percent of Koreans said that homosexuality should not be accepted by society. It was higher than 57 percent in China and 36 percent in Japan but represented a considerable drop from 77 percent in 2007.