South Korea’s Constitutional Court has upheld a law in the country’s military code that bans homosexual conduct, claiming that the need to maintain military discipline outweighed individual sexual freedoms.

In a 5-4 split decision, the court ruled that the law, which punishes homosexual behaviour with up to one year in prison, is constitutional.

“The legal code cannot be seen as discrimination against gays because such behaviour, if left unchecked, might result in subordinates being harassed by superiors in military barracks,” the court said in a statement.

The ruling came as a result of an army military court filing a petition with the Constitutional Court asking it to clarify whether the 1962 law was discriminatory against gay soldiers and therefore unconstitutional.

Homosexuality is not a crime in the Korean civil legal code and Article 31 of the Korean Human Rights Committee Law states “no individual is to be discriminated against on the basis of his or her sexual orientation”.

The move comes as Korea’s strategic ally, the United States, moves to implement the overturn of its ban on openly gay personnel.

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