SEOUL - The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists.
A massive police presence and physical barriers kept thousands of Christian activists from accessing a gay pride festival Sunday near Seoul City Hall.
But just outside the perimeter, they beat the drums of condemnation. Church groups held signs blaming homosexuality for the spread of AIDS, and saying gay love and gay marriage have no place in Korea.
“When something is wrong you must tell them that it is wrong. You cannot just keep your distance, or try to hide it,” said pastor Joy Kim. You need to tell them with no uncertainty that if they live this way, their small pleasures with cause your family and your nation to suffer.”
But once inside the heavily guarded perimeter, a festive mood prevailed at the pride festival.
Visitors got a chance to snap a photo with likenesses of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at an exhibition booth sponsored by the United States Embassy.
“We see this as part of our policy on global human rights. The fact that we are here supporting a Korean festival which has been around for 16 years, with about a dozen other embassies - I think we all really just want to show that we are supportive of LGBT human rights here in Korea,” said U.S. diplomat Anthony Tranchini.
Sunday’s event culminated in a march around the local area by tens of thousands of gay rights supporters.
Despite some occasional taunting across the barricades, the clashes many feared never happened - something many credit to the crowd control proficiency of the South Korean police force.
Meanwhile, gay activists remained dismissive of the Christian groups’ hardline approach to same-sex issues.
“They say that they know the Bible. They say that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is bad, but what they are showing is not love. So this is hypocrisy. This is the epitome of hypocrisy. This is the epitome of hate,” said activist Gabriel.
For now, the mood is upbeat, but South Korean gay activists know they have ahead of them a long uphill struggle to achieve the kind of breakthrough the recent Supreme Court decision gave their counterparts in the United States.