A ban that jails soldiers for up to one year for engaging in homosexual acts or sexual harassment is under review by South Korea's Constitutional Court, reports AFP.

At stake is the constitutionality of banning gay service members in a country where serving in the military is a requirement.

South Korea's defense ministry said it has asked the Constitutional Court to uphold the gay ban, a ministry spokesman said last week.

“The military is a unique characteristics,” a military spokesman told AFP. “It has to maintain good combat capability. It requires a sound group life. It works for the public interest rather than personal happiness.”

At its last review in 2002, the Constitutional Court upheld the gay ban as legal.

Homosexuality in South Korea is not illegal, and neither the South Korean Constitution nor the Civil Penal Code specifically address it. The Military Penal Code, however, makes being gay a crime, and the repercussions of its punishment may last a lifetime.

Soldiers found guilty of being gay are locked up for up to one year and given a dishonorable discharge.

South Korea's military draft makes service mandatory for all male citizens, with no conscientious objector option. And in a country where service records are commonly used to determine employment and being gay is considered “abnormal”, a military dishonorable discharge for being gay carries a heavy burden.

The Military Penal Code further punishes gays by lumping together consensual and non-consensual gay sex as “sexual harassment.”

Homosexuality is taboo in the Republic of Korea, where South Koreans treasure sacrifice over personal liberties. Gay nightlife does exist in large cities, but gay men and lesbian women remain mostly invisible.

A local military court in August asked the Constitutional Court to review the military's gay ban, saying the code was ambiguous with regards to “whether it covers sex by mutual agreement, or harassment between males, between females or between a male and female.”