Gay pride faced Christian outrage in central Seoul in a showdown that dramatized the conflict between Korea’s deeply conservative values and the country’s latter-day surge toward democratic equality.
Advocates and foes of gay rights clashed after a gay pride rally on the grassy plaza in front of Seoul City Hall that drew several thousand people — many celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage between gay couples.
As gay pride ralliers cheered, sang and danced inside the plaza, thousands of foes of gay marriage shouted slogans and epithets from beyond rows of policemen. The policemen, pouring from dozens of police buses, probably outnumbered both the gay ralliers and their foes.
A parade in which those at the rally sought to march up the avenue toward the reconstructed Kyongbeok Palace of Korean kings broke up in scuffles between marchers and their critics organized by Seoul’s powerful Protestant churches.
Throughout the rally, thousands of policemen formed a tight ring around a temporary enclosure hastily erected to keep out anti-gay troublemakers. With the police staving off their foes, gay marriage crusaders cheered speeches proclaiming their freedom to do as they please.
Across the avenue, Christian pastors shouted sermons over mega-loudspeakers denouncing gay marriage as contrary to biblical teachings. “Have you heard of Sodom and Gomorrah,” a Protestant pastor responded when asked what he thought of the rally.
The size and anger of the anti-gay protest showed the depth of the opposition to gay rights in a society that is actually rather open about extra-marital sex. Adultery has been legal since Korea’s supreme court in February ruled a law against it was unconstitutional, and prostitution goes on via hostess bars, massage parlors, red light districts and on-line contacts. Still, the notion of gay marriage is almost never mentioned in political debate.
Gay pride advocates do not appear to have formed an agenda that would legalize gay partnerships perhaps by civil contracts. Generally, the most they talk about is the right to live and behave as they wish.
A participant poses for a souvenir photo with cutouts of U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama during the Korea Queer Festival in Seoul, (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
The fact that gay rights crusaders were able to hold the rally in such a conspicuous central location represented a signal triumph for a movement that’s been brewing for years. The police had initially refused to issue a permit for the rally but had to relent after a local court overruled them in the name of free speech.
Although gay rights advocates have organized rallies in recent years, they never before had been able to obtain the permit needed to gather on the city hall plaza, often the site of rallies staged by political groups, labor unions, military veterans and many others.
The weather on a balmy sunny Sunday was perfect for the occasion at which a picnic-like atmosphere prevailed within the fencing that shielded the rally from its foes.
Ralliers sprawled on the grass, did impromptu dances, posed for pictures and applauded songs played by local groups on a large stage. On the fringes of the grass, souvenir stands purveyed gay literature, pins, banners and soft drinks in the rainbow colors of the LGBTQ movement.
Outside the tightly controlled fence surrounding the rally, the mood was that of righteous wrath expressed in biblical quotations as well as banners and posters in Korean and English.
In fact, the anti-gay protesters, crowding broad sidewalks in front of the Seoul City Hall and across the avenue, outnumbered the Gay Pride crowd by a wide margin. They had been preparing for weeks to block the rally, reserving potential rally sites, inveighing against the Gay pride movement in church services and meetings and demonstrating against rally organizers as they asked for permits
Posters hefted by anti-gay demonstrators tended not to use the word “gay” other than to say, “Gay Marriage Out.” Many of the posters said “No” in large letters beside slogans in Korean. “Homosexual rights are not human rights,” said one of the posters. “Marriage is between man and woman,” said another.
Christian and nationalist values suffused the anti-gay protest. Banners proclaiming “Holy Korea” and “Holy, Holy Holy” were raised on high while pastors shouted out the evils of homosexuality as revealed in the bible.
The anti-gay protest was also anti-foreign, at least as seen in declarations about the U.S. Supreme Court decision. “Do not impose foreign culture on Korean cultural values,” said one sign.
The pervasive Christian influence over the anti-gay protest, however, raised another question. About one third of Korea’s 50 million people are Christian, but what about the rest of the people? About one fourth of Koreans are Buddhist while the rest tend to be agnostic or atheist but often influenced by shamanism going deep into Korean cultural history.
Non-Christians also are deeply conservative but may not be so forcefully opposed to gay pride. “I have no problem with that,” said a bystander outside the rally when asked what she thought of marriage for gay couples. “Why does it matter?”
by Donald Kirk
Source – Forbes