South Korean Anti-Discrimination Law Faces Conservative Pushback

South Korean conservative groups are mounting a fierce resistance to a proposed anti-discrimination law in South Korea that would prohibit discrimination based on based on religion, political ideology, or sexual orientation.

The comprehensive bill, which was drafted after receiving recommendations from the United Nations Human Rights Council, was introduced to the country's legislature early February 2013 and it is now pending review from the Legislation and Judiciary Committee-just a few steps away from becoming effective.

The possible legal changes it could bring include banning all forms of corporal punishment, toughening measures on sexual violence against children, and stepping up the monitoring of discrimination against migrant workers. However, the law still excludes any changes to the the controversial, anti-communist National Security Law as well as the death sentence.

The country first attempted to pass anti-discrimination legislation in 2007 when the justice department suggested a similar law was needed. But the bill was thwarted [ko], with its clause prohibiting discrimination based on someone’s “education and medical record” being panned by corporations as “limiting corporate's free business activities” and Christian groups opposing the part protecting sexual minorities.

This latest incarnation of the law is attracting much of the same criticism. Christian groups threaten that the law can be used to support gay marriage.

Furthermore, right-wing groups interpret the part of the bill that defends freedom of political expression as “handing power over to dangerous pro-North commie groups [ko]” — a derogatory term the ruling conservative party falls back on when referring to liberal groups or South Koreans who are taking dovish stances on North Korea.

About 200 groups [ko] from political, educational, and civic sectors staged a protest in Seoul (a photo can be seen here) against the proposed law. The South Korean Presbyterian Coalition released a statement [ko] claiming the law could create unnecessary conflicts between religions and interfere with the content of their sermons.

Young net users, however, have strongly defended the law and hit back at the conservative criticism online.

Rainbow flag

Image by Ludovic Bertron from New York City (CC 2.0 BY SA)

Many South Koreans on Twitter wrote that they were appalled at how vocal the opposition is. Some pointed out that opponents were exaggerating to maximize fear:

@windburial: 실제보다 상황을 과장하여 공포를 조장하는 행위는 참 약빨 좋은 전략이다. 이를 테면 성소수자 차별 금지를 동성애 교육 강제로 읽는다든지, 타 종교에 대한 증오 조장 금지를 설교권 제한으로 본다든지. …

@windburial: I have to admit that creating fear by blowing things out of proportion is a very effective strategy. For instance, they interpret “forbidding of discrimination against sexual minorities” as “enforcing mandatory education on homosexuality”, and read “prohibition of incitement of hatred against other religions” as “restricting their editorial decision on sermons” (link to the related news article)

@whydenyyourself심지어 그 ‘동성애’ 부분을 좀더 자극적이게 ‘항문성교'라 표하더군요.

@whydenyyourself: Some even use very sensational terms in describing homosexuality — they replace it with “the anal sex”

Twitter was inundated with young, progressive South Koreans who voice their surprise at opponent's fierce stance against the law:

@dcdcssss: 차별금지(법)반대라는 이중부정이 거슬린다. 그럴싸해보여서. 그냥 차별찬성론자라고 부르는 것이 더 직관적이지 않나.

@dcdcssss: I find the use of double negative — the anti “anti-discrimination” — so disturbing. Sounds quite legit. It would be more intuitive to just call it “pro-discrimination”

@byguilty: 차별금지는 너무나 당연한 건데 저 말이 이해하기 어려운가. 입에 거품 물고 반대를 하게. 차별하고 싶어 환장했다는 표현을 그렇게 당당하게 할 수 있는 게 놀랍다.

@byguilty: The concept of “anti-discrimination” cannot be more obvious. How do they find this so hard to understand? They hate it until they foam at the mouth with rage. It is shocking to watch how they can be vocal about how eager they are to discriminate against minorities.

Some aimed their criticism at the politically powerful, scandal-ridden Korean Church:

@ze9_: 차별금지법은 불합리한 차별을 금지해서 조금이라도 합리적인 사회 구조를 만들자는 건데, 그걸 반대하는 건 불합리한 구조 ‘덕분에’ 명맥을 유지하고 있는게 기독교라고 외치는 꼴입니다. 부끄러운 줄 아세요.

@ze9_: The purpose of creating the anti-discrimination law is to build a more rational society by prohibiting irrational discrimination. If you (referring some Christian groups) are against it, then it is like confirming that you were able to sustain your position thanks to that irrational system. You should be ashamed of yourself.


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