By Soo-hyang Choi
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s constitutional court on Thursday narrowly upheld a law banning same-sex relations within the armed forces, citing a possible risk to the military’s combat readiness in a ruling criticised by activists as a setback for gay rights.
Under the country’s military criminal act, members of the armed forces face up to two years in prison for same-sex relationships. The law has been referred to the court and upheld by it four times since 2002.
In Thursday’s five-to-four ruling, the court said allowing same-sex relations could undermine discipline within the military and harm its combat capabilities.
Rights groups have been urging the court to scrap what they termed an “outdated and bad” law, after the Supreme Court last year overturned a military court’s conviction of two soldiers sentenced to suspended prison terms for a consensual same-sex relationship.
Activists said the law fuels violence and discrimination against and stigmatization of gay soldiers.
“This continued endorsement for the criminalization of consensual same-sex acts within the Korean military is a distressing setback in the decades-long struggle for equality in the country,” Boram Jang, Amnesty International’s East Asia researcher, said in a statement after Thursday’s ruling.
South Korea has one of the world’s largest active armies, with all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 28 required to serve between 18 and 21 months.
(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi; editing by John Stonestreet)