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Homosexuality on front lines of ideological battle

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Christian activists stage an anti-gay rally in the streets of central Seoul, June 2016. One of them holds a picket that reads:
Christian activists stage an anti-gay rally in the streets of central Seoul, June 2016. One of them holds a picket that reads: "Homosexuality corrodes the country established on blood and sweat." / Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

Conservatives' anti-homosexuality protests replace ‘pro-North Korea' attack on liberals

By Choi Ha-young

Homosexuality has become Korea's main political hot potato once again. Voices against sexual minorities are nothing new, but they have palpably grown and unified.

As the National Assembly moves to revise the Constitution, Christian groups have convened in nationwide protests. The controversial part of the proposed constitutional revision is the change to the phrase "gender equality" from "equal rights for both sexes." Anti-homosexuality activists believe the change will institute same-sex marriage and change the military law banning gay sex.

"So far, we've gathered 500,000 signatures to protest stipulating gender equality in the revised Constitution," Professor Gil Won-pyong of Pusan National University, who leads the campaign, told The Korea Times.

"The constitutional revision played a crucial role in igniting our anger. Christians who were lukewarm over municipal ordinance and educational guidance have become desperate owing to the revision, which is a grave issue. People are sharing information voluntarily via chat rooms, and they are actively voicing their opposition to lawmakers who are in defense of homosexuals' human rights."

It's not the first time religious groups have spoken up against homosexuality in Korea. President Moon Jae-in's two nominees, Kim Yi-su for Constitutional Court chief and Kim Meong-su for Supreme Court chief, encountered trouble in the National Assembly process for their alleged support of homosexuality. In the end, Kim Yi-su failed to get the endorsement.

Liberal lawmakers, mainly from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and the People's Party, were targets of "text bombing" by Christians vying to make their lives difficult. Many Christians fired salvos against the People's Party, which held the decisive vote.

"I couldn't turn on my phone when the text bomb hit the ceiling owing to the never-ending messages," a People's Party lawmaker said on condition of anonymity. Some lawmakers were summoned by pastors of megachurches in their electoral districts.

In reality, however, neither nominees have declared their support for legalizing homosexuality. In July last year, Kim Yi-su stated that the current Military Criminal Act is "unconstitutional" because of the ambiguous sixth clause of Article 92 in the act, which reads: "soldiers caught having ‘anal sex' are subject to up to two years of imprisonment, even if the sexual relations do not involve ‘assault' or ‘threats.'"

Kim Meong-su was also grilled for allegedly favoring same-sex marriage and homosexual relationships in the military. Kim dismissed the allegation, and the ruling party as well as the Supreme Court spokesman called it "fake news." However, some Christians kept blasting the liberal judge.

Rep. Kim Jong-dae of the progressive Justice Party, who has been vocal about the disputed Military Criminal Act, was bombarded with phone calls. "For a week, we had to disconnect all phones lines in the office," Rep. Kim's secretary said. "The protesters said revising the act would turn their sons gay and homosexuality would undermine military discipline."

Rep. Kim organized the forum "Sexual Minorities in the Military" on Sept. 27. "Ten lawmakers who joined my revision bill commonly experienced character assassination, which threatened their re-election," Kim said. "I'm aware this seminar may hinder my future career as well."

For fear of anti-homosexual groups' attacks, the seminar was held without press releases.

<span>Group of Christians carries on a campaign against homosexuality at Seoul Station on Oct. 6. One of them holds a picket that reads:

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Group of Christians carries on a campaign against homosexuality at Seoul Station on Oct. 6. One of them holds a picket that reads: "Eradicate Homosexuality; Clean Korea; Hallelujah." / Courtesy of Kang Hoon-ku

Collusion with conservatives

It is interesting to note that the anti-homosexuality protests are in tandem with conservative parties' efforts to shake the liberal administration.

Last month, lawmaker Kim Tae-heum from the largest conservative party, the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), drew up a bill to remove the phrase "not to discriminate against someone over sexual orientation" from the National Human Rights Commission Act. The bill has long been demanded by conservative Christians.

The tightening alliance between churches and conservatives is a result of their isolation in Korean society, pastors pointed out. The massive corruption scandal involving ex-President Park Geun-hye exposed the moral degeneracy of the conservatives, who ultimately divided themselves into the larger LKP and the smaller Bareun Party.

"After the division, the far-rightists became even more extreme. Like all ultra-right parties in the United States and Europe, such extremists need an enemy," Pastor Kim Jin-ho, chief researcher at the Christian Institute for the 3rd Era, told The Korea Times. "For the past few decades, they relied on throwing ‘pro-North Korea' accusations at their opponents. However, that strategy doesn't work anymore."

In May, President Moon handily won the presidential race despite his rival from the LKP Hong Joon-pyo repeatedly saying "Moon is a pro-North Korean leftist." The trend was also detected in the general elections in April 2016. The liberal DPK won the majority of the National Assembly amid the growing anxiety over the possible collapse of the North Korean regime after 13 North Korean defectors arrived in Seoul.

The conservatives were seeking an alternative attack for "pro-North Korea," and hatred against sexual minorities has emerged since the 2016 general election, when the Christian Liberal Party was largely backed by leading pastors of megachurches. "When the effect of anti-homosexuality expires, anti-Muslim or anti-immigration may replace the hatred, like in European countries," Kim said.

As is widely known, Christians cite the Bible in justifying their opposition to homosexuality. However, this doesn't fully explain conservative Christians' enormous angst and vehement rallying against diverse sexual identities. Theologians commonly point out the Bible put greater emphasis on consideration for the poor and the weak, while only eight biblical verses throughout the New Testament and the Old Testament oppose homosexuality.

"That's the ‘besieged fortress syndrome,'" the pastor said. "Both Christians and conservatives are at stake as they lose public trust. Due to their heightened consciousness of the crisis, they tend to exaggerate the entire world as their enemy."

Recently, sexual minorities have enjoyed increased visibility in pop culture and many have openly expressed their identities, such as through attending the annual queer parade and coming out via social media, which intimidates sexual purists.

Two male participants lie hand in hand on the grass during the 2016 Korea Queer Culture Festival. / Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
Two male participants lie hand in hand on the grass during the 2016 Korea Queer Culture Festival. / Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

Kim also views the consolidating alliance from an economic angle. "After the liberal government took power, the conservatives lost their main financial backer," he said. Under ex-President Park, the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) funded far-right civic groups, including the Korean Parents Federation.

According to Rep. Lee Yong-ho of the People's Party, the Korean Parents Federation hasn't held a rally since Moon took office, compared to the 71 rallies that occurred in the past three years before May, indicating the group's financial difficulty.

"Wealthy megachurches, which are rarely transparent in their accounting, are the most plausible patrons for the groups in place of the state-supported lobby group," Kim said.

Pastor Lee Jin-o from Withplus Community echoed Pastor Kim's concern. To dissolve the Christian-conservative alliance, Lee urged individual believers to make reasonable judgments. "For example, individual Buddhists can believe and practice their religious precept: prohibit killing animals in their daily life. But it's improper to put pressure on politics to legalize the precept."

Lee called for politicians to "take some loud-spoken voices lightly" saying such text bombs don't represent all churchgoers. "The majority of Christians and a handful of megachurch leaders should be viewed separately."

An opinion poll conducted by Christian groups in April showed Christians tend to cast ballots regardless of their religion. According to the poll, 63.3 percent of respondents said the new President doesn't necessarily have to be a Christian. And 65.6 percent of respondents said religious bodies should avoid endorsing certain candidates.

"Therefore, politicians should not follow such pressures blindly. Regardless of lobbyists' pressures, each lawmaker is obliged to make a decision to promote the public interest. If a lawmaker chose to reverse his or her decision due to such protests, the lawmaker should take political responsibility," Lee noted.

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