South Korean filmmaker Kim Jho Gwang-soo announces symbolic gay 'wedding'
Filmmaker Kim Jho Gwang-soo plans symbolic ceremony to push case for same-sex marriages
The first time a South Korean celebrity announced he was gay, in 2000, the reaction was quick and without empathy. Actor and entertainer Hong Suk-chon was banished from television and radio programmes for three years, and he said in a talk-show interview this year that he regretted coming out.
But another celebrity's recent wedding announcement suggests that the homosexual community may be slowly winning the fight for public acceptance.
Movie director Kim Jho Gwang-soo surprised many last month by announcing he would symbolically tie the knot with his long-time male partner on September 7 in what would be the highest-profile ceremony of its kind in South Korea. He and Dave Kim envision a massive public event in Seoul with guests honouring their relationship by donating money to build a centre for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Later they will try to get their marriage registered, and if they are rejected, as is expected, they intend to file a constitutional appeal. "We want [South Korea] to enter the stage of starting discussions on" same-sex marriage, said Kim Jho, 48.
Online news outlets carried photos of the boyish-looking star kissing his curly-haired, 28-year-old partner, and their names were among the most popular search words on web portals for much of the day.
Some conservative newspapers ignored the announcement, but there was little criticism of the couple in the media.
Kim Jho said he and his partner had not encountered any anti-gay slurs, and there have been people on the street who encouraged them.
"It's a delightful response," Kim Jho said.
On Saturday, the couple took centre stage at Seoul's annual Korea Queer Festival.
Analysts say the couple's announcement was the latest sign of a substantial change in how South Koreans viewed sexual minorities.
Several gay-themed movies and TV dramas have become hits and some male-to-female transgender entertainers have risen to stardom.
More than 100 gay bars and nightclubs are now openly operating in Seoul, according to a gay rights organisation.
"The social exclusion level [facing sexual minorities] has declined a lot compared with when Hong Suk-chon came out … so chances for our society to embrace them have increased a lot," said Cho Hee-yeon, a sociology professor at Seoul's Sungkonghoe University. "But South Korea still has a long way to go."
Anti-gay sentiment runs deep in a society that includes a large, vocal conservative Christian community and a deep-rooted Confucian heritage that has long put strains on open talks on sex-related topics. Add to that rapid economic development under past military-backed dictatorships that ignored the voices of minority groups.
"We absolutely oppose a same-sex marriage. The Bible describes it as a curse," said Hong Jae-chul, president of the conservative, Seoul-based Christian Council of Korea.