In a move that could potentially change society in that East Asian country, the South Korea Constitutional Court voted on Thursday to strike down a law that prohibited adultery, including cheating and extramarital affairs.
According to Steven Borowiec of the Los Angeles Times, seven of nine justices on the Constitutional Court voted to nullify the law that prohibited extramarital affairs. The justices in favor of scrapping the law, which has been in effect since 1953, argued that it was an unconstitutional limit on personal freedom.
"Even if adultery should be condemned as immoral, state power should not intervene in individuals' private lives," presiding judge Park Han-Chul said. "Public conceptions of individuals' rights in their sexual lives have undergone changes."
According to ABC Australia, anyone who violated the adultery law could previously be imprisoned for up to two years. The law has faced serious challenges in court four times before, but those efforts were unsuccessful.
ABC Australia reported that the number of prosecutions for adultery in South Korea has gone down, noting that almost 5,500 people were formally charged with that action in the past six years. Prison terms for convicted adulterers have taken a steep drop too, from 216 people jailed in 2004 to only 22 since 2008.
"Under the law, adultery could only be prosecuted if an injured party complained, and any case was closed immediately if the plaintiff dropped the charge - a common occurrence that often involved a financial settlement," ABC Australia wrote.
According to ABC Australia, the South Korean law was based on a belief that adultery damaged families and challenged the social order. It was also originally introduced to protect the rights of women in marriages.
"Adultery must be censured morally and socially, but such a law is inappropriate in a modern society," Ko Seon-Ju, an activist with the group Healthy Families, said. "It used to be an effective legal tool to protect female rights, but equal rights legislation has improved."
Ko added that adultery "should be dealt with through dialogue between the partners, not by law."
The Los Angeles Times reported that "signs of infidelity" can be easy to spot in any South Korean city.
"Clustered around any train or bus station are 'love motels' whose customers include people having affairs and privacy-seeking young couples who still live with their parents," Borowiec wrote.
Borowiec reported that based on the court's data, 53,000 South Koreans have been indicted on adultery charges since 1985, including 900 last year. However, the Supreme Prosecutors' Office noted that few of them ever served time in prison.
According to Borowiec, now that the law has been struck down, court officials said that anyone convicted of adultery since 2008 could have their charges dismissed or be eligible for a retrial.