Adultery Law Upheld by Slimmest Margin

      October 31, 2008 12:14

      The Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled by default that Korea's draconian anti-adultery laws are constitutional. It was the fourth time the court has upheld the increasingly controversial law. Four out of the nine judges upheld the law, with five against, but a two-thirds majority or six out of nine is needed for a law to be declared unconstitutional.

      Ok So-ri, the former wife of a popular entertainer, had filed a complaint that the 55-year-old law violates the right of individuals to sexual privacy.

      ◆ Five Out of Nine Judges Against

      The adultery law narrowly survived, with five out of the nine-member panel of judges finding the law unconstitutional. One judge ruled the law should be retained but needs to be replaced, finding it "not conforming" to the Constitution.

      Judges Lee Kang-kook, Lee Kong-hyun, Cho Dae-hyen and Min Hyeong-ki upheld the constitutionality of the adultery law, which punishes extra-marital affairs, saying it is justified since it protects marital relationships even if it does limit the right of individuals to privacy and to make their own decisions about sex.

      But judges Kim Jong-dae, Lee Dong-heub and Mok Young-joon said public views about sex have changed, and efficacy of the punitive measures is questionable. Judge Song Doo-hwan said it was unconstitutional for the adultery law to impose jail terms without the option of fines.

      Judge Kim Hee-ok, who ruled that the adultery law should be retained temporarily until a more suitable alternative is available, said it was unconstitutional to punish an act that should merely be criticized ethically.

      An official at the Constitutional Court said the ruling was "mixed" this time, with judges who had been viewed as conservative now seeking to scrap the adultery law.

      ◆ Dwindling Support

      The court reviewed the constitutionality of the adultery law in 1990, 1993 and in 2001, and in all three cases supported it. Each time only between one and three of the nine judges found that the law was unconstitutional. This time there were five, suggesting the law is nearing the end of its run.

      The prevailing view is that controversy over the law will become a hot issue as women's rights improve, public attitudes about privacy change, and people become more open about sexual issues. Women's rights groups such as Korean Women's Association United and Korean Womenlink view the adultery law as failing to protect the rights of women.

      Each year since 2005, around 1,100 people have been indicted for violating the adultery law. During the first eight months of this year, 537 people were indicted. The Philippines, Switzerland, Mexico, Taiwan and certain Muslim countries retain punitive adultery laws.

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