Adultery, the act of engaging in extramarital sexual relations, was decriminalized in South Korea on February 26. The Constitutional Court of Korea garnered the two-thirds majority to strike down the law, with a vote of seven to two. The decision reached declared that Criminal Act Article 241, the adultery provision, “violated the Constitution.”
The sixty-two year old law was established in 1953 to protect women who had little authority against their dominating husbands in the male-centered society. Since then, the law has indicted more than 53,000 people, although the two year prison term was rarely issued due to the lack of evidence of sexual intercourse.
The repealing of this law officially proclaimed adultery to no longer be an affair of the state, as South Korea’s traditionally conservative and Confucian values are now rapidly undergoing change with greater value placed on individual rights.
However, surprisingly, this was not the first time measures had been taken to take down this law—it was just the only successful one. Since 1990, the law was unsuccessfully revisited four times; the closest the law came to being repealed was in actress Ok So-ri’s 2008 case when it was only one vote short.
Critics of the law, Judges Park Han-chul, Lee Jin-sung, Kim Chang-jong, Seo Ki-seog, and Cho Yong-ho claimed the charges of adultery breach the citizens’ rights to participate in sexual affairs and violated the privacy and freedom of their personal lives.
They continued that issues of free will, love, and maintenance of marriage “should not be externally forced through a criminal code.” Moreover, they expressed their doubt that the law was effectively performing its duty, for instead of discouraging adultery, it was merely used as a means of threat to achieve financial compromises.
Supporters of the law staying intact, however, claimed that it encouraged loyal, honest family relations and that efforts must be made to prevent the moral depravity that will come as a result of the ban. Lamenting that family life could be undermined and weakened, they shunned the court’s actions as irresponsible and lacking hindsight.
South Korea, now no longer one of the few non-Muslim nations to criminalize adultery, will continue to have a highly debated topic to contend with. Despite the lift, citizens must remember that they all still have a moral and civil obligation against adultery and infidelity.
– Emily Kim (’16)
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