Conservative administration should embrace various forms of families
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has changed its position on recognizing common-law marriage and cohabitating households as legal families. The liberal opposition Democratic Party of Korea proposed an amendment recently to the Framework Act on Healthy Families, aiming to delete a clause in the act that defines family as a "unit formed by marriage, blood ties and adoption." However, the ministry submitted its opinion to the National Assembly last week, saying that the act "needs to be maintained as it is."
The ministry's shift in stance is both sudden and surprising. Announcing the Fourth Basic Plan for Healthy Family in April last year, it emphasized that expanding the scope of families would ease discriminatory perceptions and prevent policy blind spots. However, the ministry reversed its posture, saying it could provide substantive support to diverse families without changing the concept of a family. It must have been wary of the conservative government and religious circles concerned that expanding the concept of the family could lead to the recognition of same-sex marriages.
The ministry's behavior is anachronistic. It fails to reflect the rapidly shifting reality of the family and changes in perception, including unmarried cohabitation, common-law marriage and increasing cohabitation among elderly couples. It also runs counter to the experts' proposal that the recognition of and support for diverse forms of families are needed to cope with the serious issue of the low birthrate. France, which boasts a fertility rate of 1.83, more than double Korea's 0.81, legally recognizes cohabitating couples and offers the same support.
Nearly 70 percent of Koreans already think that, aside from marriage and blood ties, they are families if they feel a sense of community as a family. Single-person households account for more than 40 percent of the total, and the number of non-relative household members, such as friends and lovers, has exceeded 1 million. There is no justification or practical benefit to clinging to the concept of a "normal family" and the narrow family concept. The change in political power does not mean a change in the ministry's responsibility for providing legal and policy support in keeping with the changing reality of families.