Gay South Korean film director marries his partner in public

By Jane Chung

SEOUL (Reuters) - Gay South Korean film director Kim Jho Gwang-soo symbolically married his long-term partner on Saturday, with the couple exchanging vows on a bridge, though same-sex marriage remains illegal in the conservative Asian country.

Dressed in white, Kim and his partner of nine years, Kim Seung-hwan, staged an ceremony on a stage overlooking a stream, with a choir and various artists performing a musical tribute.

Both men made clear they were trailblazing in a society where traditional values keep many homosexuals from coming out, let alone pressing for legal approval for same-sex unions.

"Now people cannot but call us as a married couple as we have had a wedding," Kim, 49, told a news conference, holding his partner's hand tightly before the ceremony got under way.

"It is important whether or not we become a legally bound couple. But more importantly, we want to let people know that gays can marry too in our society."

Hundreds attended the two-hour ceremony, dubbed "Kim Jho Gwang-soo and Kim Seung-hwan's Righteous Wedding," which featured the partners reading their vows and singing a song to illustrate their love story.

Proceedings were disrupted briefly when an unidentified man rushed onto the stage and tossed food onto members of the choir.

Yonhap news agency later identified the man as an elder in a Christian church. He was detained by police.

Kim announcement in May that he was holding the event made him the first South Korean show business personality to do so and only the second to ever come out. The other, an actor, now says he regrets his decision.

Although homosexuality is not illegal, the pressure to marry someone of the opposite sex to continue the family blood line is strong and leads many to hide their sexual identity. Gays and lesbians have been subject to hate crimes, with one gay man sprayed with hydrochloric acid in 2008 by an acquaintance.

New Zealand last month became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalise gay marriage, with many Australians now travelling there to tie the knot.

Thailand, one of the most liberal countries in the region, does not recognise same-sex marriages, but a civil partnership law giving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples the same rights as heterosexuals is being prepared.

Kim said he would nonetheless formally apply to get his marriage legally registered after the ceremony. Some South Korean lawmakers have backed an anti-discrimination law that would embrace gay rights, but amendments have foundered due to conservative Christian legislators who oppose recognition.

Christians make up about a third of the population, with parishioners split into a wide variety of denominations.

Kim has directed a handful of films well received by domestic audiences and came out in 2005 during a screening. He co-founded a production company "Rainbow Factory" with his partner that specialises in LGBT-themed movies.

The couple said they would use the traditional wedding money gifts they received to launch a centre for LGBT issues.

(Editing by Ron Popeski)

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