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S.F. gay pride group hurls a 'Pink Brick' at Gov. Schwarzenegger
- Phillip Matier, Andrew Ross
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is preparing to embrace gay Republicans at a fundraiser in Southern California next week -- but back in San Francisco, a brick is headed his way over his veto of last year's same-sex marriage bill.
Schwarzenegger is this year's recipient of the "Pink Brick'' award, a raspberry handed out annually by organizers of the San Francisco gay pride parade.
The governor received nearly a third of the 3,043 mail-in ballots cast in advance of this Sunday's parade. That was well ahead of the second-place Concerned Women for America, a Christian-based group that campaigns against same-sex marriage.
Last year's brick winner was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, for her analysis that the "too much, too fast, too soon" push for same-sex marriage rights had helped cost the Democrats the 2004 presidential election.
"It's just another way to put pressure on a leader to look at our community ... and take our issues seriously," said Lindsey Jones, executive director of the San Francisco pride parade.
The brick wasn't the only snub Arnold got in repayment for his veto in September of Assemblyman Mark Leno's bill granting same-sex partners the right to marry.
Organizers of gay pride events in San Diego, Long Beach and elsewhere declined to publish the greeting and letter of appreciation that Schwarzenegger sent out last month ahead of the celebrations.
In San Francisco's case, organizers ran the governor's letter in their gay pride magazine -- but also included a side letter pointing out both Schwarzenegger's good deeds and failures when it came to issues of interest to the gay and lesbian community.
Asked about his refusal to back same-sex marriages during a Webcam conversation with the public Tuesday, Schwarzenegger -- whose chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, is a lesbian -- emphasized his support for domestic partner rights. But he said voters had sent a loud and clear "no" in 2000 when they passed Proposition 22, which reaffirmed the state's definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
And you can bet he will be singing much the same tune June 29 when he's scheduled to appear at a big Hollywood gathering benefiting the gay Log Cabin Republicans. It's his first appearance before a gay audience since taking office in November 2003.
"It's a way of saying 'thank you' to an organization that supported him during the recall and during his reform agenda last year, and that has supported his re-election -- and it's the only gay group that frankly did that," said Chris Bowman, a local GOP gay activist who plans to attend the dinner.
As for the governor's veto of the Leno bill, Patrick Guerriero, national president of the 20,000-member Log Cabin Republicans, said, "The governor has signed scores of (gay) supportive legislation.
"We recognize that there is a lot of education work to do, not only with the governor, but with Californians, as well," Guerriero said.
Not good enough, Leno says. He thinks Schwarzenegger continues to "play to his far right,'' noting that the governor has announced he will veto a bill by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, that would require school textbooks used in California to reflect the achievements of gays. The bill has passed the Senate but is still awaiting action in the Assembly.
"I can't recall another instance where a governor took a position on a bill so early in the process,'' Leno said.
Not so fast: Despite Ron Dellums' call to hold off, outgoing Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown said he plans to make board and commission appointments right up to the very end of his term.
Right now, there is one vacancy on Oakland's Port Commission, two vacancies on the Planning Commission and three on the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board -- all potentially key appointments when it comes to development deals.
Dellums, who will replace Brown in January, asked the mayor to leave the Port Commission appointment till he takes office. The mayor-elect wants someone who will hold the port's feet to the fire on environmental issues.
Dellums also said he wants the new appointments to the Planning Commission to reflect the diversity of Oakland -- a not-so-subtle jab at Brown's penchant for development deals that riled various communities.
Brown spokesman Gil Duran said Tuesday that while the mayor would be open to discussing the matter, he planned to continue the "settled practice of the mayor exercising his authority through the end of the term, just as they do in San Francisco and in Sacramento."
Duran also noted that Brown predecessor Elihu Harris' last appointment -- to the Library Commission -- was approved the day after Brown took office.
Old Glory: Congratulations to the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department for getting Old Glory back up the flagpole at North Beach's Washington Square Park.
And it took only four months and two days to do it.
That was the amount of time between when police Capt. Jim Dudley, head of the department's Central Station, recovered the stolen flag off a purple-haired kid near the park and when the city got it back up.
Why so long?
What else? Money and bureaucratic back and forth.
At one point, the gang at Central Station even offered to take up a collection to get the job done.
Eventually, however, Rec and Park was able to:
A) get a contract for an outside steeplejack (the city doesn't employ one);
B) scrape together the $575 for the steeplejack to climb the pole and replace the string that was cut in the theft; and
C) get everyone's schedule together to get the job done.
"Earlier would have been nicer,'' said Rec and Park spokeswoman Rose Dennis. "But it's up now, and hopefully everyone leaves it alone."
Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross appear Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. They can also be heard on KGO Radio. Phil Matier can also be seen on KRON4 News. Got a tip? Call them at (415) 777-8815, or drop them an e-mail at email@example.com.
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June 22, 2006
Schwarzenegger snubbed by gay San Franciscans
California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been making news lately for his embrace of the gay political group Log Cabin Republicans, who will honor him at a fund-raiser next Thursday in Los Angeles. But gays and lesbians in San Francisco want him to know they are not happy with the governor’s veto of a same-sex marriage bill last year. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Schwarzenegger is this year’s recipient of the “Pink Brick” award, a raspberry handed out annually by organizers of the San Francisco gay pride parade, which will take place this Sunday. In being considered for the brick, Schwarzenegger scored well ahead of the second-place finisher, the notoriously antigay Christian group Concerned Women for America. The onetime mega–movie star received nearly a third of the 3,043 mail-in ballots cast. Last year’s brick winner was U.S. senator Dianne Feinstein, who said that the push for same-sex marriage in 2004 was “too much, too fast, too soon,” implying that the issue had cost the Democrats the 2004 presidential election. “It’s just another way to put pressure on a leader to look at our community...and take our issues seriously,” Lindsey Jones, executive director of the San Francisco pride parade, told the Chronicle. The brick wasn’t the only snub Schwarzenegger received for having vetoed the same-sex marriage bill, authored by gay California assemblyman Mark Leno. Organizers of gay pride events in San Diego, Long Beach, and elsewhere declined to publish the greeting and letter of appreciation that Schwarzenegger sent out last month ahead of the pride celebrations. Asked about his refusal to back same-sex marriages during a Web cam conversation with the public on Tuesday, Schwarzenegger—whose chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, is a lesbian—emphasized his support for domestic-partner rights. But he said voters had sent a loud and clear “no” in 2000 when they passed Proposition 22, which reaffirmed the state’s definition of marriage as being the union of a man and a woman. (The Advocate)
Episcopalians Curb Policy on Gays
After rejecting a ban on gay bishops, church leaders put a stumbling block in their way, hoping to pacify the Anglican Communion.
By Stephen Clark, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 22, 2006
In a stunning reversal, Episcopal church leaders seeking common ground with the worldwide Anglican Communion on Wednesday agreed to "exercise restraint" in selecting openly gay bishops.
The decision came just one day after the House of Deputies, one of two legislative bodies for the church, rejected a temporary ban on gay bishops. Although the new policy does not explicitly ban gay bishops, it makes it more difficult for gay clergy to achieve that office.
The resolution was overwhelmingly approved at a joint session of the deputies and the House of Bishops on the final legislative day of a weeklong convention in Columbus, Ohio.
After much debate, the resolution gained credibility when Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori supported it, saying it would ease strained relations within the church and allow further discussion of the issue.
"I am fully committed to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in this church," she told deputies. "I don't find this an easy thing to say to you, but I think that is the best we are going to manage at this point in our church's history."
The Episcopal Church, which has 2.3 million members in the U.S. and is part of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion worldwide, has been torn by the issue of homosexuality.
After the 2003 election of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, Anglican officials asked the U.S. church to approve a temporary ban on gay bishops. Many conservatives, who represent a minority in the U.S. church but dominate some Anglican congregations overseas, were incensed by his election.
A panel appointed by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams recommended a moratorium on consecrating other gay bishops in a document called the Windsor Report. Some who support gay bishops have expressed a desire to break away from the Anglican Communion.
Robinson, who attended the convention, said he trusted Jefferts Schori's judgment. "While I was disappointed at the outcome, I don't see this as a huge setback," Robinson said in a telephone interview. "I think this gives us a way to move forward and deepen the conversation.
"I'm taking the long view on this," he added. "There's always going to be bumps in the road, and this is one of them."
Some delegates wept when the resolution was adopted, and even some who voted for it tearfully apologized to Robinson. "It came at a great price to many people," he said.
But some saw it as a price worth paying.
"It's a resolution of unity in which the Episcopal Church has gone further than I ever expected it would go in accepting the Windsor Report," said the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. "I think we've taken an action to let the Anglican Church see how serious we are."
Bruno, speaking from Columbus, added that he fully supported gay and lesbian bishops and compared the issue to women's struggle to become priests and bishops. "If you look at this in the same light as women's ordination," he said, "everything is a progression."
Not everyone agrees.
The Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, who attended the convention, believes the resolution will have a "chilling effect."
"It was a very tragic moment," he said of its passage.
He noted that the Newark diocese was close to unveiling its short list of candidates for bishop. "It's going to be interesting to see," he said, "if there are any gay or lesbian candidates."
Episcopal, Presbyterian Leaders Rule on Gay Clergy
Episcopal leaders reject a ban on homosexual bishops. Presbyterians defer the issue of ordination to local, case-by-case decisions.
By K. Connie Kang and Stephen Clark, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
June 21, 2006
Episcopal church leaders on Tuesday rejected a temporary ban against gay bishops, while Presbyterians agreed to let local and regional governing bodies decide whether to ordain gay or lesbian ministers.
The actions by the churches' governing assemblies could cause further rifts in denominations already coping with theological divisions over homosexuality and declining membership.
The Episcopal House of Deputies, composed of more than 800 lay leaders and clergy, has been meeting in Columbus, Ohio. The Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million members in the U.S., is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Leading Anglican officials had asked the U.S. church to approve a temporary ban on gay bishops after V. Gene Robinson, who is gay, was elected bishop of New Hampshire three years ago. His election outraged conservatives, who constitute a minority in the U.S. church but who dominate some congregations overseas.
Robinson is the nation's only openly gay Episcopal bishop, though in May, two gay men and a lesbian were among six finalists to become bishop of a Bay Area diocese.
"I was very pleased that they voted it down," said the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, who was at the meeting.
Bacon, in a telephone interview, said conservatives who want to stay with the Anglican Communion were disappointed by the vote. "I would say right now the church is significantly polarized," he said.
The nation's largest Presbyterian group, meeting in Birmingham, Ala., approved the new policy that enables local and regional church bodies to approve the ordination of gays and lesbians on a case-by-case basis.
While leaving intact a church law that requires ministers and lay leaders to practice "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness," representatives of Presbyterian Church USA voted 298-221 to adopt the measure.
In effect, the policy creates a loophole that would allow gays and lesbians to serve as ministers, even though the policy does not endorse gay clergy.
"It's a compromise that allows the church to live together in peace," said the Rev. Jon Walton, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of New York.
But the Rev. Donald Baird, a pastor from Sacramento, said he was concerned that the new policy would undermine church unity. "We used to act as one church," Baird said. "Now we'll have 11,000 churches."
The policy gives sessions (boards of trustees of local churches) and presbyteries (regional governing bodies) leeway to decide who can serve as pastors, as well as deacons and elders. But such decisions are subject to review by administrative and judicial bodies.
"What has changed is to give some added authority to the local presbyteries and sessions in making those judgments," said the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, chief executive at denominational headquarters in Louisville, Ky. "But it is also crystal clear that the fundamental standards don't change. And those standards are the same in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Birmingham or anywhere they're carried out.
"Certainly, there will be differing judgments in different locations and different mission situations as to what is essential for the ordination of people in ministry."
Attempts by liberals to rescind the requirement of fidelity in marriage and chastity for singles failed in 1998 and 2002.
At Tuesday's meeting, numerous efforts by conservatives to defeat or delay the measure failed.
Presbyterian Church debates issue of gay elders
Updated 6/22/2006 9:34 PM ET
By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
The Episcopal Church isn't the only denomination debating gay issues — the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) faces a similar conflict, theologically and politically, at its assembly Thursday in Birmingham, Ala.
Can a local church ordain a gay elder when the denominational constitution forbids it?
At its 1996 assembly, the 2.4 million-member church set a national standard banning ordination for openly gay deacons, elders and ministers but retaining those already ordained.
There has been disagreement ever since, although, unlike the Episcopal Church, there has been no threat of schism or scolding by international bishops in the headlines.
A task force report to be presented in Birmingham doesn't address gay ordination directly, but its governance recommendations, if adopted, could open the door to it by acknowledging the discretionary power of local and regional churches.
"We're trying to clarify which national standards are essentials for everyone and where discretion can apply," says the Rev. Jack Rogers, who appointed the task force when he was moderator for the national church in 2001.
In his new book, Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality, he calls for full rights of membership for homosexuals in the church.
Not all branches of the Presbyterian Church agree on such issues. The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), formed in 1974, hews to "the inerrancy and authority of Scripture" and traditional roles for women.
Posted 6/12/2006 5:32 PM ET
Updated 6/22/2006 9:34 PM ET
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.