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The Peninsula

The commanding dissent of churches

Published July 2, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • Lawmakers have proposed two new bills to ban the discrimination of individuals based on gender, ethnicity, age, and other identities.
  • A petition calling for the bill to be brought to the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee has gained traction, receiving over 100,000 signatures within 30 days.
  • Even with overwhelming support from the public, anti-discrimination laws have a history of facing protests from protestant church groups.

Implications: Despite recent assertions of popular sovereignty such as the 2016-17 Candlelight Movement, minoritarian voices play an outsized role in some aspects of South Korean politics. Although recent polling data shows that 88.5% of the public favors the adoption of an anti-discrimination bill, opposition from religious groups poses a barrier to its passage. Led by Protestant church groups, resistance to the legislation pivots around the government’s extension of these protections to the LGBT+ community. As a consequence of this small but vocal rebuke, both opposition and ruling party lawmakers have been unwilling to publicly signal their support for the bill, citing a lack of “national consensus.”

Context: The current ROK constitution bans discrimination based on gender, religion, and social status, but does not explicitly include gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, among other factors. Since 2007, lawmakers have proposed eight anti-discrimination laws, but the bills have always been squashed before being debated in the National Assembly. The challenges facing this most recent bill mirror developments in 2013 when church groups pressured lawmakers to rescind their support for an anti-discrimination bill. Opponents of the bill also protested outside the house of the liberal lawmaker who had drafted the legislation. A similar law was also proposed last year, but it too never gained wide support. Previous anti-discrimination bills had backing from many high-profile lawmakers, including current President Moon. However, lawmakers have consistently withdrawn their support when religious groups voice their opposition.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sean Blanco, Marina Dickson, and Jina Park.

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