The Seoul High Court ruled on Tuesday that the state's health insurer should provide spousal coverage to a same-sex couple, in a decision that lawyers and advocates said marked the first legal recognition of same-sex union in South Korea.
The ruling overturned a lower court decision that a same-sex dependent was ineligible for benefits afforded other common law couples by the National Health Insurance Service.
Ryu Min-hee, a lawyer for the plaintiff couple said the High Court's decision was the "first recognition of the legal status of a same-sex couple."
The couple, So Sung-wook and Kim Yong-min, said in a statement: "We are delighted. It is not only our victory but also a victory for many same-sex couples and LGBTQ families in Korea."
The plaintiff, So Sung-wook, filed a suit against the National Health Insurance Service in 2021 after being denied spousal benefits, but a lower court had ruled in favour of the insurer on the grounds that a same-sex union could not be considered a common law marriage under the current law.
According to Ryu, the appellate court said the spousal coverage system under the state health insurance scheme was not just for families as defined by law, and not granting the rights to people in same-sex relationships was discrimination.
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Protecting the rights of minorities is the "biggest responsibility" of the court as the "last bastion" of human rights, the court added.
The National Health Insurance Service said it would lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court — the highest court hearing litigations. South Korea also has the Constitutional Court that hears appeals on constitutional matters.
"This is an important decision that moves South Korea closer to achieving marriage equality," said Boram Jang, Amnesty International's East Asia researcher, adding that it offers hope that prejudice against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community can be overcome.