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Possible ease of ban on marriages between distant blood relatives sparks backlash

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : March 5, 2024 - 13:32

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This Feb. 28 photo shows members of the Sungkyunkwan Confucian Association holding signs opposing an easing of a ban on consanguineous marriages. (Sungkyunkwan Confucian Association) This Feb. 28 photo shows members of the Sungkyunkwan Confucian Association holding signs opposing an easing of a ban on consanguineous marriages. (Sungkyunkwan Confucian Association)

As the South Korean government mulls easing a ban on consanguineous marriages, a local authority on the country's traditional rites on Tuesday voiced its strong opposition against what they say is "an act of destroying the concept of family."

The Sungkyunkwan Confucian Association, which provides guidelines for the country's traditional rituals, said it commenced one-person protests against the move outside of the government complex in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, on Monday. High-ranking members of the organization are slated to take turns protesting, with the association's Chairman Choi Young-gap and Choi Jong-su, chief of the group's educational body Sung Kyun Kwan, petitioning for a meeting with Justice Minister Park Sunga-jae.

The group warned of a massive protest by its members sometime next week in Yeouido, Seoul, where the National Assembly is located.

The protest comes in response to the potential revision of the Civil Act Articles 809 and 815, which nullifies any marriages between blood relatives within eight degrees of relations ("chon" in Korean). Moving up or down the family line adds one degree of relation while moving sideways counts as two degrees of relation, which means a relative that is eight degrees apart would conventionally mean a third cousin -- someone who shares the same great-great-grandparent.

But the legal clause has long been criticized, with detractors arguing that modern-day people don't recognize such distant relatives as family.

In 2018, a man who married a woman six degrees apart in blood relations filed a complaint against the articles to the Constitutional Court, after the couple's marriage was nullified by a local court. The articles were deemed unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in October of 2022, which recommended their revision by the end of this year.

The government move has sparked concerns from Confucius groups across the country, particularly when it was reported that a professional conducting a study on legal grounds of the revision recommended that the law should ban only marriages between blood cousins of four degrees -- in other words, first cousins. Hyun So-hye, a professor at Sungkyunkwan University Law School, pointed out that there are very few people who maintain family ties with relatives beyond five degrees of blood relations -- first cousins once removed.

The Justice Minister stressed that it is “carefully reviewing” the revision and that nothing has been decided as of yet.