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Adultery Is Now Legal in South Korea

62 years after the passage of a morality law, spouses can’t be prosecuted for extramarital affairs

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smithsonian.com

Call it cheating, forbidden love, biological imperative or just human nature. In some countries, extramarital affairs aren’t just controversial—they’re illegal. But that just changed in South Korea, which has overturned a 62-year-old ban on affairs.

South Korea’s Constitutional Court overturned the law with a seven-of-nine majority, Steven Borowiec reports for the Los Angeles Times. The old law let wronged spouses file complaints alleging infidelity, and the crime was punishable with up to two years in prison. The court says sentences were doled out to more than 50,000 South Koreans, though few served time. Now, those who were convicted will have a chance to get charges dismissed or tried, and new affairs won’t be punishable by law.

In their majority opinion, the justices called the old law outdated and intrusive. But the dissenting justices worried that overturning the cheating ban would corrode ethics and endanger the institution of marriage. Park Sojung, reporting for Yonhap News, says that the decision reflects “a growing importance of personal choice over marital order in a traditionally group-oriented society.”

South Korea is packed with thousands of love motels specifically designed for extramarital sex (although not necesssarily for cheaters—unmarried lovers who still live with their parents are thought to be key customers). But in recent years, the heavy stigma around love motels has begun to fade, with a new generation of boutique hotels getting in on the fun.

Borowiec notes that the historic ruling was likely prompted by a recent kerfuffle over Ashley Madison, a “hookup website” targeting married people interested in extramarital affairs. South Korea initially banned the site, but its popularity may have provoked a new look at adultery laws. And while there’s no word on how the new law will affect Seoul’s love motels, it has sparked a new interest in contraceptives—one condom manufacturer saw its stock price rise 15 percent hours after the ruling.

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