Same-Sex Marriage Is Still Illegal in South Korea. But Our Symbolic Wedding Made People Dream.

Same-Sex Marriage Is Still Illegal in South Korea. But Our Symbolic Wedding Made People Dream.


In 1970, before I started kindergarten, I had the most fun playing house. We played many other Korean children's games, such as "dabangu," stick tossing, hide and seek, and "squid," but playing house was my favorite. However, the game was mostly played by girls. Most of the other boys chose to play outdoors. I liked how children pretended to act like adults. It was a pleasant game that didn't cause conflict or stir competition. Because this game required playing in pairs, I used to be quite popular. There was always a shortage of boys for the game. Many girls competed to be paired-up with me -- sometimes they'd play rock-paper-scissors to decide. Now that I think about it, it's very similar to the concept of the Korean reality show We Got Married! It was definitely something that would have entertained me!

Most kids who played house focused on activities such as cooking, but I liked the wedding part the best. This must have been influenced by the fairy tales that I had read. I always asked my female partner to choose a fairy tale such as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, among others. I then wrote a script based on that tale and the finale was always a wedding, just like the endings I read about. I always built an imaginary castle and made an entrance with my partner on a horse carriage. Our weddings would always consist of a large number of guests, extravagant decorations and fanfares (of course, these took place in an imaginary location). My partners enjoyed this moment as well, because they could become princesses. The other children who were cooking and eating in their makeshift houses would always look at our house with envy. I felt happy, and I was determined to hold such a wedding in my future.

On July 29, 1981, I saw the wedding of the century. It was England's Prince Charles and his beloved Diana's wedding. A castle and a carriage and scores of guests -- this was what I had been dreaming about. And it wasn't a fairy tale, but a wedding that was actually happening! Ever since that day, my dream grew bigger. I decided that I would have a grand wedding of my own -- even if it wasn't identical to the royal couple's -- with the blessings of hundreds of people. I have been looking forward to my dream coming true ever since.

However, as I went through puberty, that dream was shattered, and I became depressed. I could not become a groom. In order to become a groom, I needed a bride, but I was not a heterosexual man who could be paired with a bride. Korea offered up blessings to the weddings of heterosexuals, but it did not legally or morally accept weddings for gay men like myself. I had always dreamed of having the happiest wedding, but I experienced depression when I realized that this was not something I could ever have. As a gay adolescent boy with big dreams for a fairy tale wedding, I was devastated.

As I participated in student movements in college, I learned about the problems facing the institution of marriage in Korea. I also learned that you don't have have to be married to be happy, and about the concept of an unhappy marriage. However, I was frustrated that only heterosexuals could get married. I shuddered at the harsh reality. My older brother, two younger sisters, friends, and acquaintances all got married, and I was always the guest that congratulated them.

After I came out and became a part of the sexual minority rights movement, I saw the world changing around me. There were more and more countries that legalized gay marriage and acknowledged gay partnerships.

I decided that I would not give up on my dream. It's not too late, I told myself. However, I was faced once again with devastation. Marriage is not something you can do alone, and whenever I dated anyone and the relationship got more serious, I would drop hints of marriage, but I always got rejected. It felt impossible to find a gay person who didn't only dream of having a wedding, but who actually wanted to get married. I grew anxious that my dream was fading away.

In January 2005, on a bone-chilling winter day, I saw Seung Hwan Kim for the first time. He dazzled me. Ever since, I fell madly in love and through my persistent courtship, we became a couple.

Our marriage will not immediately change the world. However, it did lead to a shift in Korean people's perspectives.

In January 2005, he left for the U.S. as an exchange student, and we were apart for six months. Many people think that gay people only have short term relationships and are only interested in having casual sex. However, for six months, we video chatted in the mornings and evenings, met in Paris on Valentine's Day, and met in New York the summer after the semester was over. We loved each other passionately. As our love became deeper, I became greedy and thought, "Yes, I want to spend the rest of my life with this person!"

In April 2010, I received an award at the Seoul Women's International Film Festival for my feature-length debut film Two Weddings and a Funeral. I thought a lot about what I would say for my acceptance speech. The faces of all the people I wanted to thank flashed before my eyes. Among those faces, the person who I wanted to thank the most stood out clearly. At the closing ceremony of the film festival, I was announced the winner of the award, and I went on stage. After I calmed myself down, I called out to Hwany, the happiest person in the audience: "Can you spend the rest of your life with me? That's what I want to do!"

At a press conference held in May 2013, I stated that I would definitely have a wedding. Many people asked why I was trying to get married. I replied "because we love each other! Is there anything else that you need?" Just like other married couples, we love each other and we want to be with each other, and that's why we want to get married. Many reporters were baffled and confused. When the news about our wedding spread, it became a controversial issue.

South Korea's laws on the institution of marriage did not acknowledge our union. We've faced many difficulties, before and after we got married, and we know that there will be more struggles ahead of us, but with the trust and foundation that we have built since 2005, we were confident that we would be happy. This is true even today. As we were preparing for our wedding, we argued like other couples, but we were both happy. The wedding preparations were marked with anticipation rather than worry -- but it wasn't easy to do something that had never been done in South Korea. However, many people helped us, which eased the struggle.

We got married on September 7, 2013, in South Korea's first same-sex wedding. Thousands of guests showed up to to congratulate us.

After the wedding, I met a few high school students on the street. A young man came up to me and said, "Director, thanks to you, I am also dreaming of getting married. Please fight to legalize gay marriage in our country." I giggled with excitement when I heard his words. I was thrilled that my happy marriage gave someone the chance to dream.

Our marriage will not immediately change the world. However, it did lead to a shift in Korean people's perspectives. Straight people started realizing that there are gay marriages in Korea too, and gay people started thinking: "we can get married too."

Gay marriages are no longer unimaginable in South Korea. It is not exclusive to other countries: This is our story now too. I also think that following our marriage, South Korea became a little more romantic!

This post first appeared on HuffPost Korea. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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