By Park Si-soo
The military's penal code on sexual activities is facing challenges from inside and out.
Song Moon-ho, law professor at Chunbook National University in North Jeolla Province, took issue Thursday with Article 92 in the Military Penal Code, which bans homosexual activities in the barracks and punishes those who engage in them by up to one year behind bars.
"Its removal will hardly undermine the military's war deterrent power," Prof. Song claimed, adding that these activities can be punished by the existing regulation related to punishing coerced sexual acts.
According to the Ministry of National Defense, a total of 176 cases of sexual activities between soldiers were reported between 2004 and 2007. Only four were assessed to be consensual, it said.
The issue of consensual sex among soldiers is being challenged by the military itself.
Last August, a military judge said, "Punishing all sexual activities is too restrictive" and asked the Constitutional Court to review the military penal code, which punishes even consensual sex.
All able-bodied men are required to serve the country in the military or through other compulsory missions. The Korean military is strictly sexually segregated.
"Under the criminal law for civilians, all types of sexual relations on the basis of consensus are not punishable, but they are in the military, meaning it limits people's freedom of sex," he said.
The professor claims that only a few countries prohibit men with homosexual orientation from joining the military.
Of the 28 countries comprising NATO, 24 respect their sexual tendencies and allow them into the military, he said. In Korea, homosexual soldiers face forced discharge. Sex in the military is a tricky issue. In the United States, it is the "don't-ask-don't-tell" policy adopted at the start of the U.S. Clinton administration. This policy is widely seen as a victory by the conservative military brass, which was under pressure to raise its sexual tolerance.
Last Saturday, U.S. President Obama renewed his vow to allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military.