South Korean President Moon Jae-in (4-R) speaks with the leaders of the country's seven largest religions prior to a luncheon meeting at the presidential office in Seoul on Monday. Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE
Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Discrimination against members of South Korea's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities should not be tolerated, President Moon Jae-in said Monday.
Moon, a Roman Catholic who has said little on the rights of sexual minorities since assuming office in 2017, told a gathering of South Korean religious leaders a nationwide agreement on same-sex marriage comes first, News 1 reported.
But even as same-sex marriages are not legally recognized, social discrimination targeting the LGBT community should not be acceptable, Moon said.
"A national consensus should be the priority for same-sex marriage," Moon told Christian and Buddhist leaders. "However, regarding the human rights of sexual minorities, they should not be socially persecuted or discriminated against."
The president made his unprecedented remarks before heads of religious coalitions, including Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong of Gwangju, chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea.
Kim said he supports Moon's views, but also said there is a difference between "respecting the human rights of sexual minorities" and "recognizing them," said presidential Blue House spokeswoman Ko Min-jung.
South Korean religious leaders representing conservative Protestant sects have previously voiced opposition to the cause of same-sex marriage.
In 2017, Moon made controversial remarks during his presidential campaign, when he said he is opposed to homosexuality.
The president's most recent comments come after a meeting with top foreign diplomats to Seoul last week, including with New Zealand Ambassador Philip Turner, who is in a same-sex partnership with Hiroshi Ikeda.
"A great honor to meet President Moon and first lady today with my husband Hiroshi. Thanks to President Moon first time this has been possible in Korea," Turner tweeted last week.
LGBT people continue to face tough legal challenges in Asia's fourth-largest economy. Gay marriage and other forms of legal partnership are not available. Single-sex relations are categorized as "sexual harassment" in the military and punishable by a maximum of one year in prison.