South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Thursday struck down a controversial adultery law which for more than 60 years had criminalised extra-marital sex and jailed violators for up to two years for the offence.
The court rued by a 7 to 2 margin that the statute dating from 1953 aimed at protecting traditional family values was in fact unconstitutional.
“Even if adultery should be condemned as immoral, state power should not intervene in individuals’ private lives,” said presiding justice Park Han-Chul.
It was the fifth time the court considered the constitutional legality of the legislation which made South Korea one of the few non-Muslim countries to regard marital infidelity as a criminal act.
In the past six years, close to 5,500 people have been arraigned on adultery charges – including nearly 900 in 2014.
Just in the last several years, only 22 people have been convicted under the law.
“Public conceptions of individuals’ rights in their sexual lives have undergone changes,” Park said, as he delivered the court’s decision.
Under the 1953 law, adultery could only be prosecuted on a complaint from an offended party, cases were closed immediately if the plaintiff dropped the charge – a common occurrence that often involved financial settlement.
The law was originally designed to protect the rights of women at a time when marriage afforded them few legal rights, with most having no independent income and divorce carrying enormous social stigma.