SEOUL, Feb. 26 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korea’s Constitutional Court threw out a decades-old law banning adultery on Thursday, reflecting a growing importance of personal choice over marital order in a traditionally group-oriented society.
In a 7-2 decision, the nine-member bench ruled that Article 241 of the criminal code was unconstitutional.
“The article violates individuals’ freedom to choose their sexual partners and their right to privacy,” said an opinion presented by five of the justices. “Not only is the anti-adultery law gradually losing its place in the world, it no longer reflects our people’s way of thinking.”
Two other justices supported this view, saying family issues should not be criminal, or even if so, the weight of the penalty should vary according to the intricacy of the matter.
The remaining two justices voiced opposition, saying the law was necessary to protect sexual ethics and the institution of marriage.
Under the landmark ruling, those indicted or convicted of adultery after Oct. 30, 2008, the day of the last constitutional ruling, may ask for a suspension of indictment or a retrial.
South Korea had been one of the few remaining countries in Asia that prohibits infidelity, next to North Korea and Taiwan. Extramarital affairs here had been banned under the criminal law since 1953, and before that, only women were held accountable for some fooling around.
Sentences have been relatively heavy, with jail time ranging up to two years being the only fate a cheater and his affair partner could face. In Taiwan, the sentences range up to just one year in prison.
Previously, the court had turned down petitions to repeal the law four times from 1990 to 2008. In 2008, however, the judges supporting personal freedom became a majority, but were only one vote shy of realizing a change.
Nearly 53,000 South Koreans have been indicted for adultery since 1985, with two-thirds of them being arrested. From November 2008 to January this year, only 0.4 percent of the 5,466 indicted were arrested.