South Korea court rules in favor of gay pride parade

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In a photo taken on June 7, 2014 members of the LGBT community take part in a Gay Pride parade in Seoul

In a photo taken on June 7, 2014 members of the LGBT community take part in a Gay Pride parade in Seoul (AFP Photo/Ed Jones)

Seoul (AFP) - South Korean rights activists on Wednesday celebrated a court's decision to overturn a ban on a gay pride parade in Seoul, but conservative Christians denounced the ruling as encouraging "evil" behaviour.

Police had cited public safety concerns and traffic disruption as the reasons behind the ban imposed last month, but the Seoul Administrative Court on Tuesday ruled in favour of the parade.

"Assemblies can be prohibited only when they directly threaten public order," the court said in a statement.

It also noted that the organisers of the annual parade had long been preparing for the event and would suffer great damage it if were scrapped.

"We welcome the decision," Kang Myeong-Jin, chief of the Korea Queer Culture Festival told journalists.

"The court has sent a message to the public that sexual minorities should also be guaranteed rights to speech as a member of a democratic society," he said.

The gay pride parade will now take place on June 28 in the centre of Seoul as scheduled, wrapping up an annual festival that kicked off on June 9.

More than 20,000 people including lesbians, gays, and bisexual and transgender people are expected to take part in the gala parade, the organisers said.

But they face fervent opposition from conservative Christian groups who plan to stage a street march in protest.

"We are greatly disappointed at the ruling. This is outrageous. With the ruling, the court is encouraging the evil thing", a spokesman for the Christian Council of Korea (CCK) told AFP.

"We will gather some 50,000 people to stop the parade through rallies and counter-parades," he said.

-- 'Mayor of Sodom' condemned --

The CCK and four other Protestant groups have urged Seoul to ban the festival entirely, arguing that it encourages homosexuality and would contribute to the spread of AIDS.

Bodies like the CCK -- an alliance of churches that claims to represent around 12 million Christians -- wield significant social and political influence in the country.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-Soon, a former liberal activist, was last year forced to dump a proposed city human rights charter which included protections for sexual minorities, after a storm of criticism from the same Christian groups.

Since then, a handful of Christian activists have become a near daily fixture in front of City Hall, singing songs and chanting slogans that label Park as the "mayor of Sodom".

Gay and transgender Koreans live largely under the radar in a country that remains deeply conservative about matters of sexual identity and where many still regard homosexuality as a foreign phenomenon.

Rights activists say the police ban on the parade was the first since the annual Queer Culture Festival began 15 years ago.

At last year's gay pride parade, hundreds of participants moved through the city centre on foot or on the back of decorated trucks, waving rainbow flags and wearing flamboyant costumes.

The parade has in recent years attracted a growing number of participants -- but also an equally swelling crowd of critics.

Last year, Christian activists disrupted the parade by lying down in the street.