Saturday, July 18, 2015

Gay Marriage in Korea: Coming Sooner Than You Think


Dear Korean, 

Given that U.S. just legalized same-sex marriage for all states, how is gay marriage progressing in Korea?

Gwyneth


It has been nearly eight years since TK last touched upon the issue of homosexuality in Korea in this blog. Considering the major step that the United States took in legalizing same sex marriage, it is high time to revisit this issue. This is not because TK thinks that whatever America does just matters more. He is fully aware that more than 17 countries around the world, including Canada, South Africa, much of Europe and much of South America, have legalized same sex marriage before the United States did. 

But if one focuses on the prospect of same sex marriage in Korea, the fact that U.S. legalized same sex marriage does matter more. Because of the historical peculiarities of South Korea--a country that was, in many ways, created by the United States--Koreans have always looked to U.S. as a model of modernity and democracy to emulate. When debating social policies in Korea, the argument that "This is how Americans do it" tends to carry a great deal of weight.

In fact, America's legalization of same sex marriage puts Korean opponents of same sex marriage in quite a pickle. Like most other democracies, Korea has conservatives and liberals, and Korea's conservatives tend to be more pro-U.S. Some Korean conservatives are so rabidly pro-U.S. that, when U.S. ambassador to Korea suffered a knife attack, they organized a show of music and dance wishing for his speedy recovery as if they were trying to appease an angry god. (To be sure, most Koreans and Korea's media, including even the pro-American ones, roundly mocked these people.)

Dance performance by a conservative group
following the knife attack against Ambassador Mark Lippert
(source)
The trouble, however, is that a sizable chunk of Korea's conservatives are also Protestants who strenuously oppose gay marriage, and homosexuality in general. The fact that their totemic guardian U.S. of A. has legalized same sex marriage has put them in a very awkward position. For example, because the U.S. Embassy in Korea has formally expressed its support for Korea's Pride Parade for the last several years, these conservatives groups were forced to (reluctantly) denounce America.

Christian group stages protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
The placard says: "We denounce U.S., spreading the bad culture that is homosexuality."
(source)

Indeed, the same "crazy group dance people" organized the same dance show to show their opposition against the most recent Pride Parade in Seoul, which fortuitously happened the day after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. The irony was particularly delicious because Ambassador Mark Lippert, for whose health that these people prayed as if he were a demigod, was in attendance to support the Pride Parade.

Opponents of homosexuality puts on a protest performance.
(source)
Aside: apparently, the drum beats of the anti-homosexuality people were so vigorous that some of the Pride Parade attendees had a better time dancing to them instead of the official music showcase.

(More after the jump.)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.




What is the prospect of gay marriage in Korea? Eight years ago, TK wrote this:
So where is Korea now with respect to homosexuality? Certainly, there has been progress – if taking ten steps in Manhattan toward downtown counts as a progress towards eventually reaching Miami. As meager as it is, the Korean likes to see hope from the little things. But the remaining distance does appear vast, and any gains quite inadequate. Extreme ignorance, such as equating gays as pedophiles, reigns supreme.
The events that has happened since TK wrote those words have made him much more sanguine. To be sure, the numbers in Korea remain grim. In a survey conducted in December 2014, 58 percent of Koreans opposed legalizing same sex marriage, while 33 percent were in favor. But consider this: in a 2001 survey, only 17 percent of Koreans were in favor of same sex marriage legalization. The U.S. experience has shown that opinions change very, very quickly when it comes to same sex marriage. Considering that the support for same sex marriage in Korea nearly doubled in 13 years, there are reasons to believe that the same, rapid change of attitude will happen in Korea as well.

This is particularly true because the elements in the U.S. society that proved to be favorable to recognizing same sex marriage are not only present in Korean society, but in stronger forms. In the U.S., the tide really began turning when the argument in favor of same sex marriage went from libertarian to communitarian. That is to say: until around mid-1990s, the argument in favor of same sex marriage tended to be "What goes on in the bedroom of consenting adults is no one else's business"--a libertarian stance. This made some headway, but what pushed gay marriage over the hump in the U.S. was the communitarian argument, that "Homosexual union deserves equal social dignity as heterosexual union does." The majority opinion of Obergefell v. Hodges, penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy, is the ultimate validation of the communitarian argument in favor of same sex marriage, as Justice Kennedy began and ended the opinion with a lovely paean that stressed the importance of marriage in maintaining human dignity.

Right now, Korea is still very far away from legalizing same sex marriage. Even the basic consensus regarding homosexuality--that, for example, it is an innate and immutable trait--is still yet to develop in Korea. But one must recall that as recently as 15-20 years ago, it was extremely common for Koreans to claim that there simply were no gays in Korea. In 20 years, the public mind of Korea went from extreme ignorance to some level of awareness regarding homosexuality. There is no reason to believe that this trend will slow.

Korea only needs to develop some level of consensus about the facts surrounding homosexuality--that it is not some kind of psychosis, and that there are many, many gay Koreans. Once that stage is past, gay marriage in Korea may progress surprisingly quickly, because Korea is deeply communitarian. In particular, the parental instinct for children's well-being, and the desire for family formation, are some of the strongest animating forces in Korea. Once it is established in Korean public's mind that homosexuality is an innate and immutable character, the communitarian instinct will go into overdrive. As many heterosexual Koreans can attest, no other question occupies Korean parents' minds quite like: when will my children get married and give us grandchildren? TK expects that this concern is strong enough to push aside whatever hangups that Koreans may have about the type of relationship that they are not accustomed to seeing.

To be sure, it definitely does not feel like gay marriage will be legal in Korea any time soon. Deep ignorance and open bigotry regarding homosexuality are still jarringly common in Korea. But if we are being honest with ourselves, it felt the same way in America just 10 to 15 years ago. For proponents of gay marriage, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful and press on.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

16 comments:

  1. Interesting analysis, thanks.

    I wonder... if legalization of same-sex marriages might not benefit from the recent years concern over foreign adoption. Same sex couples are well-represented among adoptive parents in the US, and their visibility was certainly part of the communitarian arguments Kennedy made.

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  2. Many thanks, TK, for your thoughtful look at things Korea, from your experience in Korea and The States.

    I was struck in 2011 to learn about _Life is Beautiful_, a television series written by Kim Soo Hyun. KSH wrote a story that just has not been matched, as I've wandered other of her work and seen other film and television (Well, _Thousand Days Promise_ is memorable to me for other reasons). But as progressive as that series was, and other film with same-sex themes (e.g., _No Regret_), your remarks seem to ring true. I agree that comparison to U.S. experience has some similar trends. However much a "progressive" or "tolerant" society is emerging in both countries, the changes are in packets/sections/segments of economy and society. We've just gone through the Confederate Flag episode, which reminds me that major parts of the U.S. experience view and live life very differently than I do. My brother's active membership and support of the NRA (and many of his friends) also remind me that the States have a very mixed society. So for legal/political changes, it's been a long long effort, very intense. But the U.S. is not "changed" as some might think. So, too, does your essay help me see that as much as I appreciated KSH's _life is Beautiful_ for various reasons (not just the same-sex theme), I have to remember that it's one thread in the tapestry of Korea. There remain the many threads like the Korean Mothers who paid for full-page ads in Chosun Ilbo, decrying KSH's LiB fiercely (according to descriptions I've read). It will be interesting to see whether in Same-Sex relationship issues, there's more headway, faster, in the Court (like we saw in the States), than in establishing a large "Gay Pride Parade" in Seoul.

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  3. "But if one focuses on the prospect of same sex marriage in Korea, the fact that U.S. legalized same sex marriage does matter more. Because of the historical peculiarities of South Korea--a country that was, in many ways, created by the United States--Koreans have always looked to U.S. as a model of modernity and democracy to emulate. When debating social policies in Korea, the argument that "This is how Americans do it" tends to carry a great deal of weight."

    Yes, sadly.

    First it was for more immigration and achieving the false promise of a "multi-cultural" paradise. Now it's gay marriage.

    TK, when will it dawn on you and your variety that America's mistakes are not Korea's solutions?

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    Replies
    1. Sorry, are you... saying that legalizing marriage equality is a mistake?

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    2. Yes.

      "Marriage equality" is a false euphemism. It's a mistake because 1) it's illogical, 2) it's bad social policy, 3) the false logic of gay marriage opens the door to a Pandora's box of other unions each more illogical and societally ruinous than the one before it.

      There are many alternatives to "marriage" to confer "legal equality" to same-sex couples and other forms of unions, including bigamy, polygamy, polyandry, or whatever else floats your boat.

      But to the extent society "recognizes" marriage as a union, it should apply only to opposite-sex couples. Otherwise, there's no point in having "marriage" at all.

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    3. 1) Two consenting adults with no choice in their sexuality getting married is not illogical. Telling them can't because of middle eastern mythology (the primary opposition) is.

      2) Gay marriage means more adoptions, and gay couples have been proven to be better parents than straight parents (probably because of no unexpected pregnancies). That's good social policy. You showed no statistics and didn't even elaborate on how same-sex marriage is "bad social policy".

      3) Slippery slope fallacy. Stupid to deny people the right to marry based on hypothetical social scenarios anyway.

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/07/children-of-same-sex-couples-are-happier-and-healthier-than-peers-research-shows/

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    4. Tehleetest Noob,
      "1) Two consenting adults with no choice in their sexuality getting married is not illogical. Telling them can't because of middle eastern mythology (the primary opposition) is."

      The illogic of gay marriage is not based on religion but the interest society has in hetero couples vs. the zero interest in gay couples.

      Society is not wont to butt into every personal interest of man, only the activities of man that affects it.

      Gay people making out doesn't really affect society because they cannot reproduce. The institution of marriage was invented by civilization because civilization has a stake in the consequences of hetero unions, viz, the children that are often the outcome. Through the once hallowed institution of marriage, society held men accountable, women responsible, and ensured that all children were accounted for with valid guardians.

      Family is the basic building block of civilization. Minimize marriage and you diminish the family. Undercut the family and you destroy the edifice of civilization upon which it is made.

      "2) Gay marriage means more adoptions, and gay couples have been proven to be better parents than straight parents (probably because of no unexpected pregnancies). That's good social policy. You showed no statistics and didn't even elaborate on how same-sex marriage is "bad social policy". "

      Marriage is not an adoption contract. The means for adoption are available outside the traditional institution of marriage.

      "3) Slippery slope fallacy. Stupid to deny people the right to marry based on hypothetical social scenarios anyway."

      It's stupid to have a thing called "marriage" if it means nothing.

      "http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/07/children-of-same-sex-couples-are-happier-and-healthier-than-peers-research-shows/"

      Well, on the face of it, the study appears to be bogus. It essentially contends that households of same sex couples are more salubrious for children than opposite sex couples. What kind of intellectual and evolutionary gymnastics do you have to do to come to this asinine conclusion?

      http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2014/07/13451/

      Delete
    5. Your premise is dependent on the fact that gay marriage somehow undermines the family. It doesn't. It strengthens the family because more people will be getting married and adopting/having kids. There's no reason to discourage that.

      Saying it undermines the family because they can't have kids is ridiculous, because 1) it relies on the intangible prospect that the family as a collective construct is undermined when people who can't have biological children get married (completely ridiculous), and 2) it implies infertile couples are deviants undermining the institution of the family just like same-sex couples.
      Gay couples can have children, adopted or biological, so the idea we shouldn't give them the same rights as straight couples because they "can't reproduce" is utterly moronic when in practice gay couples do raise children.

      Regarding studies, many have been done and almost all have shown that same-sex couples are as good, or better than opposite sex couples at raising well-adjusted children.

      http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/gender-society/same-sex-marriage-children-well-being-research-roundup

      Your concept of marriage as being only for straight couples is silly, as there are no disadvantages to allowing gay couples to marry, but many advantages, even besides human dignity and equality. To let orphans stay in the orphanage when a same-sex couple wants to adopt them, or to deny marriage benefits to those same-sex couples who adopt then is ridiculous and wrong. Many people are now aware of that and that's why were seeing a sharp decline in this "traditional" view of marriage. Ireland voted 62% for gay marriage, and the primary opposite was the elderly and uneducated.

      Delete
    6. "Your premise is dependent on the fact that gay marriage somehow undermines the family."

      No, it's predicated on the fact that societies DO NOT CARE.

      Cultures do not establish institutions, rites and ceremonies just for laughs. They do so because the ideas and values behind them have meaning and value for it and it is their wish to underscore, reinforce and enforce them.

      Gay relations is as meaningful to society as obesity and insectophilia-- meaning, it generally lies somewhere between mild acceptance and disgust.

      "It doesn't. It strengthens the family because more people will be getting married and adopting/having kids. There's no reason to discourage that."

      Marriage is not a prerequisite for adoptions.

      "Saying it undermines the family because they can't have kids is ridiculous"

      I didn't say that.

      "Regarding studies, many have been done and almost all have shown that same-sex couples are as good, or better than opposite sex couples at raising well-adjusted children."

      Absurd. The ideal is an environment containing masculine and feminine role models represented by their respective genders.

      "Your concept of marriage as being only for straight couples is silly"

      I don't think I said marriage is only for straight couples. Marriage is for opposite sex couples. At bottom, marriage has nothing to do with "love" or "sexual orientation". It is an institutional contract between individuals and society vis-a-vis procreation and the obligations/responsibilities that bringing new life into the world entail, particularly as it relates to the well-being of society.

      "many advantages, even besides human dignity and equality."

      Society didn't invent marriage to confer "equality" and "dignity". It was invented to establish legal and moral recognition, responsibility and obligations.

      "To let orphans stay in the orphanage when a same-sex couple wants to adopt them, or to deny marriage benefits to those same-sex couples who adopt then is ridiculous and wrong."

      Marriage is not a prerequisite for adoption.

      "Many people are now aware of that and that's why were seeing a sharp decline in this "traditional" view of marriage."

      Like you, many people confuse marriage with some lofty gibberish about love, equality and dignity, but marriage was not invented to confer any of those things.

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    7. > Gay relations is as meaningful to society as obesity and insectophilia-- meaning, it generally lies somewhere between mild acceptance and disgust.

      That might be true where you live (though I doubt it), but it is certainly not true in vast portions of the USA.

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  4. There are heaps of gay supporter in shinchon from last year. getting bigger each year. Not very pleased about this personally.

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  5. That's a nice post, very eloquently written. I did not like one part, though, you should not quote yourself, it sounds tacky. You could just say, I wrote this and this eight years ago.

    Despite the fact that I am a straight woman, I love Korean gay-themed movies. My favorite ones are "A Frozen Flower", "Only Friends?" and "No Regret" - although the director spoiled the movie with a very bad ending.

    So, Korea is 15 years behind the U.S.? Good observation. I noticed that in dramas they are more open about sex and cheating now than five years ago. So "Dynamic Korea" is catching up fast. I wonder how behind North Korea is....

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    Replies
    1. The best part of No regret is the ending :P

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  6. Interesting post.
    Along with your comment about Korea looking to the US as a model of modernity, there's been a bit of a Steve Jobs-worship, Apple-worship subculture here for several years, and when Tim Cook came out as homosexual late last year, the response was much more muted than I would've predicted. I work at a conglomerate, and 5 years ago it wouldn't have been surprising to hear executives make anti-gay jokes. But when Tim Cook came out, the attitude had changed to "Well, it's his life and that's his business," without any lame follow-up jokes. I'd like to think Tim Cook's announcement was another small but very visible influencing factor in Korea. Still, a long way to go before people will feel comfortable coming out in a Korean corporate environment.

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  7. Thailand and Taiwan maybe be the first countries in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Maybe it might have an impact in South Korea.

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    Replies
    1. Believe it or not. In Shibuya [Ward in Tokyo, Japan]. They have legalised same-sex marriage. The first lesbian couple that was married there. Got married in front a lot of people, some they did not know. On lookers if you will. So, in a way Japan has become the first. At least in one city. So, they have already started :)

      Delete

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