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Korean same-sex couple to sue National Health Insurance Agency for equal rights
(Seoul, February 18, 2021) – Korean same-sex couple So Sung-wook and Kim Yong-min filed a lawsuit against the national health insurance service (NHIS) on Thursday over a canceled dependent status in a press conference in Seoul Administrative Court in Seoul, Korea.
Plaintiff So Sung-wook and his partner Kim Yong-min are a couple who have lived together since 2017 and had a wedding ceremony in 2019. In February of last year, the couple inquired whether they can obtain a dependent status as a same-sex couple. South Korea’s national health insurance program has two kinds of schemes, an employer one and a non-employer one, and employees can have their spouse or family member under their coverage as a dependent. The program includes de facto couples as well as legally married couples.
The NHIS replied that Sung-wook is eligible for ‘a dependent status’ through Yong-min. Through his employer, Yong-min applied for his partner’s dependent status and Sung-wook obtained the dependent status on February 26, 2020. The couple shared the story to the public through a media report on October 10, 2020, then NHIS immediately deleted Seong-wook’s dependent status. And the agency imposed a new premium for Sung-wook on November 23, 2020.
Mr. Kim said, “We enjoyed one of our rights as a couple for eight months. However, after the media report, the NHIS suddenly took away our rights. This lawsuit is to reclaim our lost rights”.
“Hello, we are So Sung-wook and Kim Yong-min, a 5-year-old couple who met in January 2013 and lived together from 2017, and married in May 2019. We are holding this press conference to tell you that we are a family, that we are a couple.
Our couple had our wedding on May 25th, 2019. I used to think that marriage is something I can’t do, I can’t choose. I thought it had nothing to do with me because the current laws and institutions do not recognize our marriage. But when I met Yong-min standing next to me, my thoughts changed little by little. Marriage was our right. We now know that marriage is something we can and should be a choice. It is not strange to say how many times. So natural words, we are a couple. We are a family. We are the same family who cares for and loves each other like everyone else.
For LGBTQ people, ‘wedding’ is often thought of as ‘something I can’t do’ or ‘something I don’t want to go.’ However, people around us, including LGBTQ friends who participated in our wedding, talk together and say that it was a ‘wedding we want to go’ and ‘a pleasant wedding.’ The wedding has been my childhood romance. I simply realized that romance, I simply wanted to celebrate our love and relationship, but it seems that our marriage approached in a different meaning to the people around us. There were many acquaintances who watched our wedding and thought, ‘I want to marry too.’ As such, there are many rights that LGBTQ couples living in Korean society should enjoy, but they cannot even think of it as their rights.
The same is true for my husband, Sung-wook with a dependent status. It was one of the rights that a couple should have, but same-sex couples could not even think of it. When we first applied, we were wondering if this would be accepted. But it was initially accepted, and we enjoyed one of our rights as a couple for eight months. It wasn’t an impossible thing. However, after a media report, the NHIS suddenly took away our rights. This lawsuit is to reclaim our lost rights.
We are a couple and a family. It is no different from others. Like any other couple or family, we take care of each other when we are sick and sometimes fight. We go shopping together, make side dishes together, and eat together. Our couple, who care for each other, depend on and dedicate each other, are already happy to imagine how to spend their old age. Friends around us also ask, “How is your husband doing?” and ask about our couple’s regards. When I visit my mother at a country house, my mother makes Samgyetang boiled for him. Wouldn’t it be strange that the NHIS is telling us, who are so happy and well, that we are not family members? Isn’t this country’s laws and systems strange?
Actually, even before the wedding, I lived with the words “because we are family”. Caring and loving each other, taking care of each other when sick, rejoicing when we are happy, deeply engaged with each other’s lives, being closer to each other than anyone else, living under the same blanke, what kind of relationship are we if we are not family? We are the same couple as other couples and the same family as any other family.
The core values and purpose of the National Health Insurance Service and the National Health Insurance System are to make the lives of the people better. The lives of same-sex couples like us should also be institutionally protected. The NHIS should have embraced a wider variety of caring lives, including us, rather than canceling the registration of a dependent, saying it was a ‘mistake.’ Now that the NHIS has thrown away its own values, we want to reclaim our rights with a lawsuit.
Actually, we are suing, and we talk about the deprived rights, but I don’t feel that bad. Rather, it’s exciting. It’s exciting to be able to talk about our rights, and we’re excited to claim them. We will continue to talk happily and find our rights as a couple and families in the future. We ask for your interest. Thank you.
Legal Counsels’ remarks by attorney-at-law Cho Sook-hyun
The parties in this case received a reply from the National Health Insurance Service that they could obtain a dependent qualification as a same-sex couple, and obtained the qualification as a dependent on February 28, 2020.
However, the defendant unilaterally deleted the dependent registration record without giving the parties an opportunity to state their opinions, and sent an official letter stating that the documents received as ‘not meeting the requirements for recognizing dependents.’ The previously recognized national health insurance dependent qualification was invalidated.
Why this disposition is illegal
In terms of social security, the health insurance dependent system puts the real necessity of health insurance as a primary requirement for the selection of dependents, and puts more importance on real life relationships such as economic dependence on the insured and whether or not they are the same household.
In addition, the National Health Insurance has expanded the range of dependents to protect the actual dependents to keep pace with social changes such as the emergence of various family types, thereby expanding the protection of those who actually need health insurance.
From this point of view, the defendant has recognized the status of dependents for spouses in common-law relationships with only simple documentary evidence.
The parties in this case are couples who faithfully fulfill their ethical and moral obligations as a couple living together, economic mutual support, and mutual marriage, and they are a relationship that satisfies both the subjective intention of marriage and the objective reality of marriage.
To deny the health insurance dependent status only because of being a same-sex spouse, even in a substantial marital relationship, is against the purpose of the health insurance dependent system.
Our legal system also grants rights to common-law spouses in various areas, including the right to receive various pensions and insurance benefits. Our court recognizes protection as a common-law spouse if there are special circumstances, even if the relationship is not recognized as a marriage under civil law, such as bigamous common-law marriage or common-law marriage between close relatives. The court’s attitude is that it is necessary to determine whether each system corresponds to the spouse to be protected, taking into account special circumstances such as the purpose of the system concerned and the need for spouse protection.
Recognition of health insurance dependent qualifications should also be determined as a spouse according to the purpose of the health insurance dependent system.
Nevertheless, it is an illegal disposition for the defendant to deny the plaintiff’s eligibility as a dependent of health insurance who is in an actual marital relationship, as it violates the purpose of the health insurance dependent system.
Today we are facing these two people who have not been granted legal rights, but have cared for, love, respect each other and have lived as a family.
They met in 2012 and started dating as a couple in 2013, and have made a living together since 2017, and they have their wedding on a wonderful day in May 2019. Although they are two people living as a family, the reality is that they are the same couple and have not received health insurance dependent qualification.
From introducing each other to family and friends, finding a place to live together, preparing and conducting weddings, the two depended on each other on countless thresholds, crossing the barriers of solid prejudice and irrational perception. The two are making an attempt to break another barrier today in front of this administrative court.
The reason for filing a lawsuit today is, in the end, the inequality of the marriage system. This is because same-sex marriage has not been legalized.
This is not the only unequal reality. According to a survey conducted by gagoonet on discrimination of same-sex couples in 2019, it is difficult for same-sex couples for getting joint loans and you are not recognized as a guardian for your parnter’s hospitalization, and you do not receive medical information or explanations of your partner’s condition.
At work, you do not receive any advantages from the year-end tax deduction, family allowances, and family medical expenses support benefits. It is also excluded from family-related private business benefits such as family discount benefits for carriers and airline mileage combined with family members.
However, even in this reality, voices about the colorful life stories of same-sex couples and the rights they deserve are growing. In addition, meaningful changes are taking place everywhere in society that drastically accelerate the time to become one that respects diversity. Through today’s litigation, the change will come one step further. The Seoul administrative court is urged to be aware of these changes and we request a wise judgment from the court.
A remark from a friend of the couple: Lee Soo-jeong
Hi. I am Lee Soo-jeong, a good friend between Sung-wook and Yong-min living in Ansan. Sung-wook, who has been my friend since college, is a warmer and more confident friend to me than anyone else. It has been 12 years since Seong-wook believes in me and he has come out as a “gay”.
Although I am straight, I have never had a sense of separation with Sung-wook because of our different sexual identities. Rather, it made me know in a wise way how I could change my misconceptions and misunderstandings about gender. It’s just that you and I are different, our lives are not wrong, but as a way to affirm and accept the lives of others. In the process, he is a precious friend who personally taught that a person can live this wonderfully and confidently.
Sung-wook was a passionate friend who did his best to solve the problems of those who suffered from discrimination based on sexual identity like himself. Looking at my friend like that, I thought that I should also live hard, and I received a lot of motivation in my life.
When Sung-wook delivered the news that he was marrying a very wonderful partner named Yong-min, I was incredibly happy. I have been together with them since the beginning of the love of the two, so the appearance of the two who chose the form of a married couple was more touching.
I have participated and watched the marriage life of many acquaintances since I am 32 years old, but more than any other couple I have seen, they looked more confident, beautiful, and respected each other. As I watched them acknowledge each other, rely on each other, and resolve conflicts wisely, I thought they were friends with a lot to learn again.
Even though many people are recognized as couples, because of the gender restrictions and discrimination, the fact that they are not even given the opportunity to live as a couple is so unfair and sad.
I know that they are people who will fulfill their responsibilities to each other and live confidently. I am sure that if you ask anyone who knows Sung-wook and Yong-min, they will give the same answer as me. I sincerely hope that these two people, who are more beautiful and bright than any other couple in the world, will not suffer from discrimination.
A remark from a friend of the couple: Yoo Sang-ah
Hi. This is Yoo Sang-ah, a friend and fan of So Sung-wook.
We met as a freshman of the same major in social welfare at university. Unlike me, who didn’t have much interest in the major of social welfare, Sung-wook was a friend who spoke about human rights that everyone should be happy from the beginning. I thought there were some people like this in the world, but it wasn’t just words, Sung-wook started coming out to his friends and students in the school, created a group of LGBT people himself, and went up to the lectern to make a statement. I admired Sung-wook, who has an upright demeanor and ability to act, and I used to applaud him with admiration, “Whatever this friend can be, he will succeed.”
However, there was something even Sung-wook couldn’t succeed. It was to become a couple under the protection of South Korea.
When a person meets a loved one, they have a relationship and promise to marry. And if you submit a document called the marriage registration form to the ward office, you can live under the status of a couple. There is no use of gender anywhere in this process. My friend, however, had to be pushed out of the law by saying that he could not be protected as a couple because the person whom he had promised to marry was of the same sex as him. It’s just that they promised that they would love and live the rest of their lives together. Looking at the cancellation of the registration of dependents, I feel frustrated sadness about what kind of the family system it is.
Everyone wants to live the rest of their lives with someone that makes you happy. We want to share our rights with that person, and I want to give them qualification to protect me. It is ironic that the values, view of life, and moral view of loving that Sung-wook and Yong-min showed us over the past 8 years should be deprived not because of the standards of the couple, but because of the “gender” they did not choose.
I mentioned earlier that I have no big interest in my major, but I am currently working at the ‘Volunteer Center’. I learned how valuable and necessary it is to protect a person’s future by working at LGBTQ student union with Sung-wook and watching his life. Thanks to this, we are working with the belief that everyone should be happy as a person. The law is the minimum device to protect the people, and I hope it will not be used as a means to hinder the happiness of a friend who changed me this way. I hope that the friends who wished for the happiness of all will be a means of supporting them so that they can protect their own happiness. Empower them to be with someone you choose for a short life. Thank you.