Justice Ministry Bickers with Judith Butler

Butler criticized Han Dong-hun's opposition to same-sex marriage; Han reacted testily.

Justice Ministry Bickers with Judith Butler

Photo: Judith Butler.  Credit: University of California

On August 15, the leading liberal newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun 경향신문 carried a long interview with the prominent feminist and philosopher of queer theory Judith Butler. The interview itself was rather banal and typical of South Korean journalists’ conversations with non-Korean intellectuals: Kyunghyang’s Im A-yeong 임아영 asked questions about specific situations in Korea, and Butler, unfamiliar with the context under discussion, gave mostly generic answers except when discussing her own books.

One of the questions concerned the pending legislation for domestic partnership, supported by the Democratic Party 민주당 and opposed by the Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration’s Ministry of Justice 법무부. Unsurprisingly, Butler gave a critical answer, which Kyunghyang ran as the article’s headline - “Judith Butler Interview: ‘Minister Han Dong-hun Seeks to Avoid the Inevitable’”.

The headline apparently caught the attention of the notoriously thin-skinned Justice Minister Han Dong-hun 한동훈 법무부장관. (See previous coverage, “Han Dong-hun Has No Hair.”) On the day the interview ran, the Justice Ministry took the extraordinary step of issuing a statement attacking Butler, Kyunghyang and (somehow) the Democratic Party: “Same-sex marriage requires a national consensus . . . I have previously suggested that the Democratic Party face the same-sex marriage issue head-on, rather than smuggling it in [under the guise of domestic partnership]. The Democratic Party is still unable to answer whether it supports same-sex marriage. Kyunghyang should be asking the same questions of the Democratic Party, not Professor Butler.”

After the statement caught media attention, the Justice Ministry sought to downplay it, calling it Han’s personal opinion. On August 17, Kyunghyang ran a follow-up article criticizing Han for voicing his personal opinions through the Justice Ministry. Amusingly, the Justice Ministry made an about-face in another statement: “The statement [on August 15] was for the Justice Minister to explain his official position on pending legislation.”

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