Openly gay New Zealand ambassador to S. Korea attends reception with husband

Posted on : 2019-10-23 17:30 KST Modified on : 2019-10-23 18:16 KST
Philip Turner becomes first foreign diplomat to visit Blue House with same-sex spouse
South Korean President Moon Jae-in greets New Zealand Ambassador to South Korea Philip Turner and his husband Hiroshi Ikeda during a reception for diplomats at the Blue House on Oct. 18. (Blue House photo pool)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in greets New Zealand Ambassador to South Korea Philip Turner and his husband Hiroshi Ikeda during a reception for diplomats at the Blue House on Oct. 18. (Blue House photo pool)

“A great honor to meet President Moon and First Lady today with my husband Hiroshi. Thanks to President Moon first time this has been possible in Korea.”

This Twitter message was posted on Oct. 18 by Philip Turner, New Zealand’s ambassador to South Korea. Images in the media showing Turner becoming the first diplomat in South Korea to visit the Blue House and meet President Moon Jae-in with a same-sex spouse drew an outpouring of support from the local LGBT community. But some critics also said it invited mockery of the current South Korean political situation where even the ruling party refuses to discuss anti-discrimination legislation.

According to accounts from government and Blue House insiders on Oct. 21, Turner’s husband Hiroshi Ikeda attended an an invitational reception for diplomats at the Blue House Korea on Oct. 18, becoming the first same-sex partner to be recognized as a spouse at an official function. In the past, same-sex spouses of diplomats were not recognized as spouses according to the rules for issuance and management of identification for employees of overseas diplomatic offices in South Korea. Even in cases of lawful marriages in countries where same-sex marriage is recognized, the status of spouse was not granted in cases deemed to “be in contravention of the laws of South Korea or in violation of its virtuous customs and other social order.” As a result, same-sex spouses of diplomats have had to enter South Korea under status akin to “employees.” In the case of Turner and his husband, however, the government altered the guidelines to belatedly grant Ikeda the official status of spouse.

Ryu Min-hee, an attorney with the Korean Network for Partnership and Marriage Rights of LGBT, called the government’s forward-thinking approach “late in coming but welcome.”

“There have been many examples of [same-sex spouses of diplomats] being recognized under the laws of the dispatching country in cases like Australia, Germany, and the US where same-sex marriage was not acknowledged in the past, or in cases like India where same-sex is not recognized today,” Ryu said.

“Beyond being simply a matter of diplomatic protocol, this may also have been a reflection of [acknowledgement of] same-sex marriage being an inexorable global trend,” she suggested.

But while Turner was sharing his happiness with the South Korean government on Twitter, a very different landscape was unfolding in central Seoul the same day on Oct. 19. In front of the Seoul Finance Center building in Seoul’s Jung (Central) District that day, a “2019 equality parade” was being held by the group Solidarity to Enact Anti-Discrimination Legislation to call for the enactment of anti-discrimination laws to eliminate hatred against LGBT and disabled persons, migrant women, and others. Members of human rights groups complained that while the Moon administration had shown an “improved perspective” in terms of diplomatic relations, the human rights of LGBT people were still going unrecognized in South Korea.

Moon admin. has yet to enact anti-discrimination legislation

“The Moon Jae-in administration emerged out of the candlelight demonstrators’ demands for historical change, but there have been zero plans for concrete action to enact anti-discrimination legislation that would address the matters of hatred and discrimination faced by LGBT people,” said Lee Jong-geol, executive committee director of Rainbow Action Against Sexual Minority Discrimination.

LGBT human rights groups voiced hopes that the latest development could help usher in changes in South Korean policies toward LGBT people.

“There will be more diplomats with same-sex partners,” predicted Candy, an executive committee member with Rainbow Action.

“What is the standard for distinguishing between them and our own citizens? I believe that even this change starting in diplomacy is part of a clear direction in state policy, and I expect that to be reflected in domestic policies to come,” Candy said.

Meanwhile, Moon reiterated the position the same day that “LGBT people must not be allowed to suffer social persecution and discrimination in terms of human rights issues,” adding that “a national consensus must come first when it comes to same-sex marriage.”

By Yi Ju-been and Lee Wan, staff reporters

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