South Korea's Constitutional Court on Thursday struck down a controversial, 62-year-old, anti-adultery law criminalizing extramarital affairs. South Korea was one of a few non-Muslim countries to regard marital infidelity as a criminal act.
Under the 1953 law, any person knowingly engaging in an extramarital affair could face up to two years in prison if punishment was sought by the spouse. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The statute was designed to provide women with legal support at a time when few were sufficiently financially independent to have the option of leaving their cheating husbands and divorce was stigmatized.” An estimated 53,000 South Koreans have been indicted since 1985.
The nine-member bench ruled by seven to two that the law was unconstitutional as it infringed upon personal freedom.
"Even if adultery should be condemned as immoral, state power should not intervene in individuals’ private lives," said presiding Justice Park Han Chul. “Public conceptions of individuals' rights in their sexual lives have undergone changes.”
"Women are active socially and economically, and women no longer apply as economically weaker," the judges said in a news release summarizing the ruling. "In addition, the law cannot be viewed as (exclusively) protecting women."
Thursday's decision marks the fifth time courts have debated the law's constitutionality since 1989.
Following the ruling, stock of South Korean latex products manufacturer Unidus Corp. soared to the 15% daily limit gain, the daily maximum on Korea's Exchange.