Seoul mayor supports same-sex marriage

October 14, 2014
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon openly supports same sex marriage. (Yonhap)

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon openly supports same sex marriage. (Yonhap)

By Kim Young-jin

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon backed same-sex marriage in an interview with a U.S. newspaper, a move likely to draw opposition from conservative groups.

“I personally agree with the rights of homosexuals,” Park told the San Francisco Examiner. “It’s in the hands of activists to expand the universal concept of human rights to include homosexuals. Once they persuade the people, the politicians will follow. It’s in process now.”

Park added that he hopes South Korea will become the first Asian country to allow such unions.

An official from the mayor’s office said that the interview took place during a trip to California last month.

The liberal mayor’s remarks were a rare example of a Korean politician speaking out on gay rights, an issue that draws vehement responses from conservative Christian lobbyists.

“Many homosexual couples in Korea are already together,” he said. “They are not legally accepted yet, but I believe the Korean Constitution allows it. We are guaranteed the right to the pursuit of happiness. Of course, there may be different interpretations as to what that pursuit means.”

Groups such as the Christian Council of Korea (CCK) — the largest Protestant organization representing some 45,000 churches — have opposed political efforts that push for gay rights. The groups have vowed not to support anti-discrimination legislation that would include protection for lesbian, gay, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people.

Last year, the most recent attempt was made in the National Assembly to push for the inclusion of a section on sexual orientation in the Anti-discrimination Act by members of the then Democratic Party. The motion was withdrawn after an outcry from conservatives in the religious community.

Members of the LGBT community say they have long been stigmatized in Korea, a society that places high priority on continuation of the family line. This can lead to homophobia within in the workplace, the military and families, they say.

However, attitudes have shifted slightly in recent years, with younger Koreans becoming more accepting of sexual minorities.

According to a poll by Pew Research last year, 59 percent of Koreans said that homosexuality should not be accepted by society. While this was higher than the in China (57 percent) and Japan (36 percent), it was also a considerable drop from 77 percent in 2007.

But opposition to gay rights still remains. In June, conservative activists disrupted the annual Korea Queer Festival in Sinchon, northwestern Seoul, by jumping in front of floats being used in the parade.