South Korean cheaters are celebrating the news that adultery is no longer illegal in their home country.
A top court ruled on Thursday that the decades-old law, which made infidelity a crime that could land offenders in prison for up to two years, is outdated. Free love, man! That’s what it’s all about! cried the justices, probably. The New York Times has an actual statement from five of the seven justices who voted to overturn the law:
“It has become difficult to say that there is a consensus on whether adultery should be punished as a criminal offense… It should be left to the free will and love of people to decide whether to maintain marriage, and the matter should not be externally forced through a criminal code.”
The law was designed to offer jilted wives protection in court—back in 1953, when it was created, South Korean women relied on their husbands for financial support. Over the decades, the law’s relevancy began to fade, but the legislation remained intact.
The move to decriminalize extramarital affairs will have real-world ramifications. The Times reports that roughly 53,000 people were indicted under the law since the South Korean government started keeping track in 1985. And others are predicting a condom boom. Reuters reports that shares in condom-making company Unidus Corp shot up by 15 percent following the court’s ruling—reaching the daily limit on the South Korean stock market. And a company that makes morning-after pills and pregnancy tests also saw a 9.7 percent spike in shares.
Another possible outcome from the case would be the return of AshleyMadison.com to South Korea's Internet. The site, which helps married people cheat on their spouses, briefly operated in the country before it was shut down for breaking the infidelity law. In a press release, founder Noel Biderman offered congratulations on the ruling:
“With more than 100,000 members in South Korea—where we are banned—we’ve proven with unquestionable data the desire for these types of interactions, which without question has helped the voices of reason succeed where previous attempts to impact this outdated law failed. We’ve given a voice to the desires of the South Korean people that has in turn changed the regulatory landscape and allowed for their improved free will."
But that doesn’t mean Biderman is prepared to drop the lawsuit he filed against South Korea. In a phone interview, he told Fusion that the company is waiting on trial dates. "Now my damages are different," he said. "I can’t tell you that I’m ready to throw that lawsuit aside. I really need a quick reaction now on the heels of the decision that is beneficial and fair to me.”
Biderman said the initial decision to bring AshleyMadison.com to South Korea came after his team discovered that South Koreans were "knocking"—essentially, trying to access the site. After today's ruling, he said he’s very interested in re-launching in the country, but officials would have to move quickly to lift the ban. “If I’m not instantly turned back on, I might have to consider my actions," he told Fusion.
Biderman said that after regulators shut down the site last spring, users were distraught—in part because his team never had a chance to communicate with them before the site disappeared. “It wasn’t like the regulators gave us flexibility. They just created a dead link. We tried to communicate via email, but we got a lot of disappointed members.” Some users turned to VPNs as a workaround, but most were unable to continue accessing the site.
Now that the ruling has been overturned, Biderman is eager to stake his claim on South Korea's married dating game. Before it was banned, AshleyMadison.com was the only infidelity dating site operating in the country, but it wasn’t the only way South Koreans sought out affairs online: Some used the local social networking site Momo to surreptitiously find adulterous love. Now, Biderman fears new sites could tread on his territory. The ruling, he said, “is going to spur copycats who can cannibalize a market that I, by rights, have a right to participate in for having created it."
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.