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[Newsmaker] Korean Air recognizes same-sex Korean couple as family

A same-sex couple of Korean nationality were recognized as family members by Korean Air’s membership rewards program, South Korea’s flag carrier said Thursday, a step hailed by sexual minorities’ rights advocates. 

Sexual minorities and activists speak to the press in front of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea building in Seoul before filing a petition for the legalization of gay marriage on Nov. 13. (Yonhap)
Sexual minorities and activists speak to the press in front of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea building in Seoul before filing a petition for the legalization of gay marriage on Nov. 13. (Yonhap)

The female couple, who are in their 40s, completed registering as family members in Korean Air’s SkyPass program on Monday after the country’s largest airline accepted their marriage certificate, which had been issued in Canada.

The couple, who have been residing in the US since last year, submitted the marriage certificate they received in Canada in 2013 and income tax certificate for the year of 2018, according to the couple.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada in 2005. Korea does not recognize legal partnerships of same-sex couples.

Under the SkyPass Family Plan program, a customer can register family members by submitting documents such as certificates of marriage and birth. Family members can accumulate mileage and claim benefits under the same account.

Korean Air said it recognizes and registers family relations based on each country’s laws. There are no rules distinguishing and discriminating against an individual based on sexual orientation.

Gay rights activists welcomed the decision.

“I think that it is a move in line with changes of the era,” said Ryu Min-hee, a lawyer for public interests lawyers’ group Hope and Law. “I hope more and more Korean companies can apply equal policies to same-sex couples and sexual minorities.”

Korea, which has no anti-discrimination law, has seen some encouraging signs for sexual minorities in recent months.

In October, President Moon Jae-in invited New Zealand Ambassador to Korea Philip Turner and his husband, Hiroshi Ikeda, to a Blue House reception for the diplomatic corps in Seoul. In the first such case, Korean authorities issued a spouse’s visa for Ikeda, though same-sex marriages are not legal in Korea.

Amid controversy over Moon inviting the same-sex couple to the presidential office, the president reiterated that public consensus should be found first on recognizing same-sex marriages.

“As for human rights of sexual minorities, they should not be socially persecuted or discriminated against,” Moon said in a meeting with religious leaders in October.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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