Democratic United Party (DUP) candidate Moon Jae-in promotes himself as a champion of diversity and laments how discrimination against minorities supposedly accelerated under the conservative Lee Myung-bak government.
But in an off-the-radar move, the self-styled pro-human-rights presidential candidate has veered off the path, pledging his full commitment toward preventing same-sex marriages from being legalized in Korea, a blatant bid to curry favor with the country's powerful Christian groups.
In doing so, he has taken an issue that had yet to come up on the campaign trail and raised a question about his "people come first" slogan: do the people come first only if they heterosexual, or when the time is politically convenient?
This represented a flip-flop from his earlier position in which he recognized same-sex unions as among the ''new types of families'' appearing in Korean society and promised to provide gay rights groups with ''institutional alternatives.''
''The DUP deeply identifies with the Christian community, which has been opposing legalizing homosexual relationships and marriages. We accept the proposals of the Korean Christian Public Policies Council and promise to invest every effort to prevent laws permitting homosexual relations and marriages,'' DUP representative Kim Jin-pyo said in a news conference Thursday.
The DUP's position on sexual minorities is now as weaselly as a political stance can be.
The party now apparently agrees with church leaders that homosexuality threatens to ''destruct'' the foundations of family and society. While they stress that their commitment to protect gay people from social discrimination hasn't been compromised, they claim it is equally important to preserve the ''freedom'' to say homosexuality is ''wrong,'' rather than ''different.''
In the grand scheme of the elections, same-sex marriage is barely on the political radar and rights advocates say they have not been pushing the matter due to lack of interest. But the shift in stance indicates a calculation that the fringe status of the issue may shield him from criticism. If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, they believe, it won't make a sound.
It was just earlier this week when Moon speechified about protecting the rights of social minorities and promised to establish a comprehensive anti-discrimination law to ensure all people are dealt with equally on employment, consumer transactions and political participation regardless of sex, ethnicity and religious and political opinions.
The announcement is now looking awkward after the DUP promised Christian groups it wouldn't be backing anti-discrimination legislation for gay people ''under any circumstances.''
''Moon basically defended the prejudice and hate thrown toward gay people, because he was so worried about angering Christians. It's not like we have been campaigning vigorously for legalizing same-sex marriages in this country anyway at this time. It's strange that he felt the urgency to come and said his party will never support that,'' said Hahn Chae-yoon, president of the civic group Korean Sexual-Minority Culture and Rights Center.
''Moon is a presidential candidate who chose the slogan that 'people come first.' And he is now letting politics shape his definition of who should be regarded as people.''
Kwon Hyeok-gi, an official at Moon's presidential camp, was defensive, claiming it would be an exaggeration to say that the DUP nominee was shifting positions on issues related to the rights of gay people.
''The issue of allowing same-sex marriages is only a small part of a big body that is protecting the rights of gay people. It will be hard to use that to color the whole picture. It would be hard to say that there has been a change in our stance,'' he said.
Of course, there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell that Moon would risk incurring the electoral wrath of Korea's social conservative Christian community by announcing that he favors legalizing gay marriages in the nation. That would be political suicide.
Still, Moon, a former human rights lawyer, feeling the urgency to come out and announce he won't be touching homosexual rights with a barge pole was cowardly and self-contradictory. Comprehensive anti-discrimination would be anything but if gay people are left out.
Besides, being gay is a lifestyle choice in this country that remains beyond the realm of the law. Moon speechifying against hypothetical laws in support of homosexuality when no laws exist in reality just fuels the hate talk.
Regardless of the anger he triggered from gay rights advocates such as Han, Moon perhaps he will continue to tout himself as a backer of the socially disadvantaged.
This is a convenient angle for him considering that his opponent is Park Geun-hye, daughter of late military strongman Park Chung-hee, whose legacy as a successful economic strategist is marred by a bloody record of civilian suppression. However, his precarious position on his high horse is looking increasingly shaky after his pathetic attempt to exchange his principles for votes.