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(LEAD) Court rules in favor of gay couple seeking spousal health insurance coverage – Yonhap News Agency

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(ATTN: UPDATES with more details throughout; REPLACES photo)
By Park Boram
SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) — An appellate court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a same-sex couple demanding the same spousal coverage from the state health insurance program as heterosexual couples.
The Seoul High Court delivered the landmark decision, overturning a lower court’s ruling that marriage in South Korea is considered a union between a man and a woman, and there are no legal grounds to expand the concept to same-sex couples.
It marks the first time a court has recognized legal rights of same-sex couples.
The plaintiff, So Seong-wook, filed the administrative lawsuit against the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) in February 2021, after the agency ordered him to pay insurance premiums as he is not qualified as a dependent of his male spouse.
The NHIS had first granted him coverage under his partner’s employer-based health insurance program as a dependent in February 2020, but it later reversed the decision citing their same-sex marriage, according to So.
So claimed he and his partner were discriminated against, as the NHIS grants spousal coverage to common-law partners.
South Korea by law does not legally recognize same-sex marriages.
The high court said it is difficult to acknowledge So’s same-sex union as common-law marriage as defined by current laws.
But those in same-sex marriage are fundamentally identical to those in common-law marriage, except that they are homosexual, given that they form the highly identical union based on emotional and economic needs as well as duties to support and be faithful to each other, the court said.
Given that, withdrawing spousal insurance coverage from So constitutes discrimination based on sexual orientation and goes against the object of the state health insurance benefits intended for dependents who economically rely on employed family members.
“It should be considered that the notion of living communities becomes different from the past in accordance with changing times and circumstances,” the court said.
“Everyone may be a minority person in a sense … Belonging to a minority group means being different from the majority, but not anything incorrect or wrong in itself,” the court also said, calling for more attention and efforts to protect minority rights.

So Seong-wook, his male partner and supporters celebrate during a press conference on Feb. 21, 2023, after winning in a lawsuit seeking spousal coverage from the state health insurance program. (Yonhap)

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