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Landmark Supreme Court ruling allows legal change of sex
Family registry to reflect change, court says
In a landmark ruling, South Korea’s top court on Thursday cleared the way for the country’s transsexuals to legally change their gender.
The Supreme Court ruled that a female-to-male transsexual should be allowed to change the gender listed in his family registry from "female" to "male." The ruling came after two lower courts rejected petitions by the same client in 2003. The court then remanded the case to the Cheongju District Court.
Since local civil and family-registry laws contain no clear definition of one’s sex, court rulings have moved between a biologically-based view that chromosomes alone determine gender, and agreeing with sex-change recipients that psychological factors are more important in gender identity. This ruling is the first by the nation’s top court on the issue, so it is likely to serve as an important standard for future rulings. Many of the nation’s estimated 30,000 transgender citizens are likely to follow suit and petition to change their sex legally.
"If one is clearly recognizable as the opposite sex in both appearance as well as in their individual and social life after having sex-reassignment surgery, he or she has the right to pursue dignity, self-value, and happiness and live a humane existence," said Justice Kim Ji-hyung in his ruling.
"We should recognize their gender change, if this does not go against public interests or order," Justice Kim said.
Justice Kim said the court decision was best choice to alleviate the suffering of transsexual people at a time when any tangible legislative measures to protect their rights is most likely a long time coming.
An increasing number of transgender people in South Korea have asked courts to allow them to change their sex in family registries since the Busan District Court accepted an appeal by a 30-year-old man, identified only by his family name Yoon, to change his sex to female.
Twenty-two people were allowed to change their gender in 2003, followed by 10 in 2004 and 15 in 2005.
The most well-known transgender celebrity in South Korea is popular entertainer Harisu, who underwent a male-to-female sex-change operation. The actress, singer, and model was allowed by a district court to legally switch her sex from male to female in December 2002.
However, South Korean courts are strict on permitting such legal gender changes. Ten people lost in court in attempts to legally change their sex in 2004. Another six lost similar cases in 2005.
Harisu welcomed Thursday’s ruling as a "quite right and natural decision."
"A democratic society must legally ensure the human dignity of its members," the entertainer told Yonhap News Agency by telephone.
The South Korean military said a male-to-female transsexual will be exempt from serving the mandatory two years and two months of military duty if the individual’s gender reads as "female" in the family registry with court approval. On the other hand, female-to-male sex reassignment recipients will have to complete military duty under the same circumstances, the military said.
By Shim Sun-ah, Seoul, June 22 (Yonhap News)
Posted at : Jun.23,2006 10:02 KST Modified at : Jun.23,2006 10:18 KST
Hankooki.com > The Korea Times > Nation
Transsexual Ruling to Bring Changes
By Kim Rahn
Lim Tae-hoon, right, former representative of a civic alliance advocating the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals, answers reporters' questions at the Supreme Court building, Seoul, Thursday after the court decided to legally recognize a transsexual's gender change.
Thursday’s milestone Supreme Court ruling allowing a female-to-male transsexual to legally change gender on the family registration record is expected to bring many changes in laws and regulations.
``Gender should be decided by not only physical appearance but also the person’s mentality and psychology and society’s attitude to the person. This means that gender is decided by diverse factors, and that a person’s mental and social gender, which he or she did not recognize at birth, can by found during his or her social life,’’ the court said in its ruling.
Following such definitions, the court also suggested five criteria in deciding whether to recognize transsexuals’ new genders in official records.
First, the person should have had a feeling of physical disorder about his or her birth sex and felt he or she belongs to the opposite sex throughout his or her life.
The person should have received psychological treatment about the symptoms but not have recovered from them. The person also should have undergone surgery to have the opposite sex’s physical condition.
After surgery, the person needs to live a biological and social life that meets his or her new gender. He or she also should not cause severe changes in relationships with others and his or her friends and family should acknowledge the change.
Those who meet the five criteria above can legally have the new gender.
With the ruling expected to help transsexuals in their social life including marriage, getting jobs and military service, related laws and regulations will also be changed.
For military service, an obligation of all South Korean men aged 20 and over, male-to-female transsexuals were previously classified as those with mental diseases, and were exempt from duty. Female-to-male transsexuals were not subject to military duty.
Following the ruling, male-to-female transsexuals who legally change gender will be automatically exempted. In the case of female-to-male transsexuals, the Military Manpower Administration said it would classify them as subject for the duty.
But imposing the military service duty on the female-to-male transsexuals is impossible under the administration’s current regulations, as they have no provision about artificial genitals.
Resident Registration Numbers
Transsexuals who are permitted to change gender on family registration records can change their Resident Registration numbers. The 13-digit number starts with ``1’’ for men, and with ``2’’ for women.
Registering the change in official records is expected to help transsexuals get regular jobs. Many transsexuals who have difficulty getting jobs have worked as non-regular workers or worked in bars, without such benefits as medical insurance.
In 1996, a man who raped a male-to-female transsexual was acquitted of rape but charged with forced sexual harassment. The court did not recognize the rape charge at that time, saying the victim was not a perfect woman.
The ruling is also expected to see changes in sentences related to sexual assaults on transsexuals.
The new ruling, however, is expected to bring some confusion.
The court said that although the gender on official records is changed, the change would not affect legal relationships made before the change.
For example, if a married man with children undergoes a transsexual operation to become a woman and legally changes this in registration records, the person still remains as husband and father to the wife and children.
Also, as the nation does not recognize same-sex marriage, it would bring another debate about the validity of marital relations.
Gender changes allowed Supreme Court makes ruling
From news reports
The Supreme Court yesterday supported a transsexual's request that his new gender be recognized in official documents.
In a landmark ruling, the top court overturned a lower court's ruling and sent the case for a retrial.
A female-to-male transsexual appealed to the nation's top court after his petition to change his gender in his family registry was rejected by two lower courts in 2003. The plaintiff's name was withheld by the court.
The ruling is expected to serve as an important standard for future rulings on similar cases since local civil and family-registry laws have no clear definition of sex. Two male-to-female transsexuals await the Supreme Court on their appeals.
Court rulings have so far swayed between biological views that sex chromosomes determine gender and other views that psychological and mental factors are more important.
An increasing number of transgender people in South Korea have asked courts to let them change their sex in family registries since the Busan District Court accepted an appeal by a 30-year-old man, identified only by his family name Yoon, to become female.
Twenty-two people were allowed to change genders in 2003, followed by 10 in 2004 and 15 in 2005.
The most well-known celebrity transsexual in South Korea is popular entertainer Harisu, who underwent a male-to-female sex change operation. Harisu, an actress, singer and model, was also allowed by a district court to legally switch her sex from male to female in December 2002.
However, South Korean courts are strict with permitting such gender changes, as 10 people lost battles to change their legal gender in 2004. Another six lost similar cases in 2005.
Many of the nation's estimated 1,000 transgender citizens are likely to follow suit and change their legal gender.
Home> National/Politics Updated Jun.22,2006 21:19 KST
Transsexuals Win Right to Change Official Sex
In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court on Thursday decided that transsexuals can change their official sex in the Family Register. The court overturned a lower court ruling on an appeal filed by a man in his 50s who was a woman until gender reassignment surgery. It sets a precedent for similar requests from Korea’s estimated 30,000 transsexuals.
“As human beings, transsexuals have the right to human dignity, to pursue happiness and live a decent life,” the nation’s highest court said in its ruling. “It is reasonable to recognize their changed sex if they have the appearance of the gender opposite to the one they were born with and it is clear that their new sex is reflected in their personal and social circumstances and does not militate against public welfare and the social order.”
The court said names were widely accepted as the basis of identifying the sexes in many cases, and when transsexuals change their sexes in the Family Register they may also change their names.
The decision was greeted with delight by civil rights groups and dismay from religious organizations.
Transgender and gay people gather at a gay culture festival in Jongmyo Park in Seoul last year.
“I am very pleased that the ruling came in favor of transsexuals,” said Han Mu-ji, a representative of a transsexual rights group Earthworms. “The ruling will speed up other cases pending in local courts where transsexuals want to change their official sex. Oh Garam, the head of a gay rights group Between Friends hailed the “first-ever ruling in Korea to consider gender roles from a social perspective.” Oh vowed to campaigns for a change in social perceptions of transsexuals.
But Father Lee Chang-young, a member of the Korean Catholic Church’s standing committee on bioethics, said “All creatures on earth are the gift and blessing of God, and the same is true with sexes. Changing one’s sex through artificial operation explicitly runs counter to the order of creation established by God.” The priest said the ruling appeared driven by concern for a minority who suffer because of their sex change but warned if gender is determined by sexual orientation, “it will cause social chaos.”
The Rev. Choi Hee-bum of the Christian Council of Korea said the ruling “supports a theory that identifies sex by psychological rather than biological factors” and “violates the God-given order.” Choi said the ruling also offended against commonsense views of gender identity “and only emphasizes protection of the minority while disregarding the human rights of the majority.”
Home> National/Politics Updated Jun.22,2006 22:34 KST
What Flows From Transsexuals Changing Legal Sex?
The Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday that transsexuals can have their official gender changed in the Family Register paves the way for legally recognizing acquired as well as biological gender. Transsexuals will consequently have new legal rights and duties.
If transsexuals change their official gender, they can marry someone of their former sex, and they can have children by adoption. If their changed sex is female, they enjoy all women’s rights guaranteed by law. But legal relations formed before the sex change will be maintained to avoid confusion to the legal system. For instance, if a married man with children becomes a woman, she remains for legal purposes the father -- and unless divorced the husband.
However, Thursday’s decision does not give a blanket permission to all transgender people to change their official sex. The court specifies only those who have been diagnosed with transsexualism and received psychiatric treatment to no avail, and have lived as the opposite sex both physically and socially.
Meanwhile, the Military Manpower Administration said it will not conscript those who change their registered sex from male to female in line with the court’s decision, while those who change their registered sex from female to male will have to serve. Korean men are required to finish their military service between 19 and 30. In the case of those who stay illegally overseas, the age limit is 35.
Korea's top court recognizes transgendered sex
The Associated Press (apwire)
Published 2006-06-22 22:48 (KST)
South Korea's Supreme Court ruled Thursday that people who have sex change operations should be legally recognized by their new gender -- the first such ruling by the country's top court.
The Supreme Court reversed earlier lower court decisions and ruled in favor of a 51-year-old transgender plaintiff seeking to legally change his gender to male. The identity of the plaintiff, who underwent a sex-change operation at age 41, was not revealed due to privacy concerns.
"If it is obvious that a person has acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex, not the sex at birth, through a sex change operation ... it is proper to recognize (his or her) changed sex," the court said in the ruling, endorsed by eight of the ten justices.
The dissenting judges said the matter should be settled by Parliament. South Korea doesn't have a law that allows such moves.
Lower courts have given mixed rulings in cases where transgender people sought to legally change their sex.
Last year, 26 cases were filed in courts nationally, but only 15 people were allowed to legally change their gender. In 2004, only 10 out of 22 cases received a favorable ruling.
The issue of transsexuality started to get attention in South Korea after a male-to-female transgender singer, Ha Ri-su, rose to popularity. Ha won her petition to legally change her gender in 2002.
The Supreme Court estimated there are about 1,000 South Koreans who do not identify themselves with their sex at birth. But activists estimate there are at least 4,000 such South Koreans.
Thursday's ruling was "a very welcome development," said Han Mu-ji, a 27-year-old who had a sex-change operation to become a man.
"I hope this will help bring about positive results in future petitions." Han, however, said the legal recognition should also be given to those who can't afford sex-change operations due to high costs and medical risks.