In a landmark moment for LGBTQ+ couples in South Korea, a high court in the nation has ruled that spousal coverage under the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) should be applied equally to both LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ couples.
It’s the first time the legal status of same-sex partners has ever been recognized in South Korea.
The decision came about due to a lawsuit filed by couple So Sung-uk and Kim Yong-min, who argued that they should be entitled to the same spousal insurance benefits the country grants to heterosexual couples even though same-sex marriage is not yet legal in South Korea.
While So and Kim could not legally marry, they had a wedding in 2019 after having lived together six years, according to the Korea Herald. In 2020, they registered with the NHIS, Kim as the policyholder and So as the dependent. Later that year, NHIS revoked So’s insurance status and ordered him to provide back payments after deciding his marriage was not valid.
A lower court initially ruled against the couple, but the Seoul high court overturned the ruling on Tuesday and ordered the insurance service to cover the costs of both sides of the case.
“The plaintiff and his partner are both male, but they agreed to recognize each other as loving partners who take care of each other,” the ruling reportedly stated. “One financially relies on the other. They declared their partnership before their families and friends. This makes their relationship no different in essence from that of a married couple.”
The ruling did emphasize, however, that it should not be interpreted as recognizing same-sex marriage as legal.
But the couple was still overjoyed.
“I feel delighted because I felt like the judges told us through this court decision that my feelings of love for my husband shall not be a target of curse, ignorance or insult,” said So. “I can say with confidence that love wins, and discrimination or hate do not.”
The couple’s attorney, Park Han-hee, who is transgender, also noted the importance of this moment.
“This court ruling is not just about individuals fighting over insurance payments,” she said. “Instead, I hope the ruling can set a precedent that discourages the state from hindering same-sex couples’ rights.”