SEOUL • South Korean presidential front runner Moon Jae In came under fire yesterday for saying he did not like homosexuality, prompting angry protests at a campaign event by gay rights groups.
Mr Moon, a former human rights lawyer of the centre-left Democratic Party, leads polls by large margins ahead of the May 9 presidential vote and has enjoyed wide support from young liberal voters.
But his remarks over homosexuality during a televised debate on Tuesday left many of his supporters scratching their heads.
"I do not like it," Mr Moon said when asked by a conservative rival whether he opposed homosexuality, adding he had "no intention" to legalise it or same-sex marriage.
Homosexual acts are not a crime in South Korea, but the conservative and patriarchal society does not recognise same-sex marriage.
Mr Moon is a practising Catholic, a denomination normally associated with liberalism in South Korea.
He added, however, that no one should be discriminated against for their sexual orientation.
But that comment did little to appease the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights activists who crashed his campaign event yesterday to protest.
They approached Mr Moon after his speech, waving rainbow flags and shouting: "Apologise for hate remark!" and "Are you opposing my own existence?"
Some were dragged away, with 13 detained for violating rules on public protest, according to pressure group Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea.
Gays and transgender Koreans live largely under the radar in a country that remains deeply conservative about matters of sexual identity, and where many people still regard homosexuality as a foreign phenomenon.
Mr Moon's camp said he had asked the police not to punish the protesters.
A Hankook Research poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday shows Mr Moon leading the presidential race by a wide margin of 14 percentage points over his main rival Ahn Cheol Soo.
Mr Ahn's decline was widely attributed to his lacklustre performance in a series of presidential debates, reported local media.