South Korea asks court to retain ban on gays in the military

PinkNews Staff Writer November 17, 2008
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The government of South Korea has asked the constitutional court to confirm the ban on gays serving in the country’s Armed Forces.

Servicemen face a year in jail for homosexual acts. In August a military court asked for a review of the constitutionality of the ban.

“The military has a unique characteristics,” a defence ministry spokesman told AFP.

“It has to maintain good combat capability. It requires a sound group life. It works for the public interest rather than personal happiness.”

All young men in the country are obliged to serve in the military or in the riot police for up to two years and have to take a test at the time of enlistment which includes various questions about their sexual orientation.

South Korea has a standing army of 687,000, the 6th largest in the world, with 4.5m reserve personnel.

In 2005, eight soldiers were thrown out of South Korea’s military for homosexuality, according to army statistics revealed at the time.

A year later, a soldier attempted suicide several times after telling his superiors he was gay.

He later claimed that he was forced to submit photographs of himself in bed with another man.

He was then obliged to take an HIV test and was publicly humiliated.

In a separate case, a mother filed a petition to the National Human Rights Commission last October claiming her son was sexually harassed for saying he was gay.

She said her 20-year-old son was forced to touch his superiors or get into bed with them.

The first phase of new military regulations went into effect on April 1st 2006.

They restricted the use of personal information about gay soldiers on military documents, ended the forced medical examinations of gay troops and punished perpetrators of sexuality-based physical or verbal abuse.

Previously those who have “abnormal” sexual identities such as gays, lesbians and bisexual people, were not allowed to serve in the Armed Forces.

However, the Ministry of Defence rules on homosexuality also state that gay men who want to “turn” straight will be supported.

In the South Korean Constitution or Civil Penal Code there is no mention of homosexuality.

However, in practice, discrimination against gay people and censorship against gay websites is fairly common.

Homosexuality has only in recent years gained some acceptance in South Korean society, with its strict Confucian traditions and strong Roman Catholic influence.

The Dutch lifted their ban on gays in 1974, Australia followed in 1992 and Canada soon after.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual people have served openly in the British Armed Forces since 2000.

Nearly all other Western nations allow openly gay, bisexual and lesbian people to serve openly.

There is public support for an end to the US policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which bars openly LGB people from serving in the Armed Forces.

A survey by the Washington Post and ABC News published in July found that three-quarters of Americans think that openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people should be allowed to serve in the military.

64% of Republicans and nearly two thirds of self-described conservatives backed a change in the current law, as did 57% of white evangelical Protestants and 82% of white Catholics.

It was Republican opposition that forced then-President Bill Clinton to abandon his pledge to allow gay people to serve and signed into law the compromise known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Since 1993 gay people who do not reveal their sexuality can serve, and commanding officers are not meant to ask service personnel about their sexual orientation.

Retired high-ranking military leaders, such as former Joint Chiefs Chairman John Shalikashvili and Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, have called for an end to the DADT law, which is estimated to have cost American taxpayers more than $364m (£182m) since its inception 15 years ago.

More than 12,000 men and women have been dismissed since 1993.

An estimated 65,000 lesbian and gay service members serve on active duty and in the reserves of the United States military.

Related topics: Asia

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