Since 1953, a South Korean could get 2 years in prison for cheating on his or her spouse
The Asian nation's Constitutional Court overturned that law, saying times have changed
A South Korean condom maker's stock price soars 15% after the decision comes out
For 62 years, if you cheated on your husband or wife in South Korea, you could end up in prison.
South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Thursday overturned a law that made adultery a crime, saying it violates the East Asian nation’s constitution.
“The precondition of human dignity and right to pursue happiness is for each individual to have their rights to choose their fate,” the court ruled, saying that one’s sex life is private. “And the rights to choose their fate includes rights to be engaged in sex and choosing the partner.”
Up until then, anyone who cheated on their spouse could be charged and, if convicted, spent up to two years in prison. The same penalty also applied to “the one who fornicated with the” cheating spouse, according to the Constitutional Court’s website.
But that’s changing because South Korean society has changed enough “to lose many parts of (the anti-adultery law’s) reason to exist,” the prevailing judges said, according to a news release summarizing their decision.
The chief reason for originally enacting the adultery law was to protect women, these justices contended. The idea was that men – who tended to be economically and socially more powerful – took advantage of women. And if a man was charged criminally, that would give women more leverage in divorce proceedings. (In other words, a wronged wife might get more compensation after deciding to drop the charges.)
Yet 2015 isn’t 1953, when the law first went into the affect, according to the judges. After all, the current president of South Korea – Park Geun-hye – is a woman.
“Women are active socially and economically, and women no longer apply as economically weaker,” these judges wrote. “… In addition, the law cannot be viewed as (exclusively) protecting women.”
Seven judges signed on to this decision, but two dissented.
The dissenting view said that legalizing adultery hurts efforts to promote family in South Korea. It points to statistics showing 40% of South Korean marriages since 2000 end in divorce. And between 2000 and 2006, at least, 47.1% of those divorces came about after one or more spouses cheated.
“Adultery and fornication go beyond a person’s rights (and) intrude on other people and the community,” these justices wrote. “Considering that the relationship between husband and wife is the fundamental element of a family, the country and the society should legally protect and maintain (this) relationship.”
The last time the South Korean court looked at this law was 2008. Since then, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap, some 5,500 people have been indicted on adultery charges, though that doesn’t mean they ended up behind bars.
It was not immediately clear what will happen to those cases, assuming they haven’t been resolved already.
But at least one entity that has reason to celebrate after Thursday’s ruling, Unidus, a South Korean condom maker.
It’s impossible to definitively say why, but Undius’ stock price did jump suddenly about 25 minutes after the decision came out. By day’s end, it was up a shade under 15% from Wednesday.
CNN’s K.J. Kwon reported from South Korea, and CNN’s Greg Botelho wrote this story from Atlanta.