Landmark ruling

Japan rules same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional

Two men at Tokyo Rainbow Pride in Japan, 2019
Two men at Tokyo Rainbow Pride in Japan, 2019 (Photo: Shutterstock)

A court in Japan has ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage in the country is unconstitutional.

It is the first time a court has recognized the rights of same-sex couples. Although several provinces in Japan allow LGBTQ couples to register their partnerships, these are not legally recognized across Japan.

Local LGBTQ advocates have filed several court cases to challenge the law. One such case, filed by six defendants (two male couples and one female couple) reached a verdict today in Sapporo District Court today. The defendants were seeking damages for the mental suffering caused by the ban.

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Judge Tomoko Takebe rejected their application for damages. However, the judge said that not allowing the couples to marry was unconstitutional, pointing to Article 14 of the Japanese Constitution prohibiting discrimination “because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.”

According to Japanese law, marriage is allowed following “the mutual consent of both sexes.” This is currently interpreted as allowing marriage only between a man and a woman. Advocates argue the wording does not explicitly prohibit same-sex marriages, while the judge also highlighted the emphasis on consent.

“Legal benefits stemming from marriages should equally benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals,” said the court’s summary.

The ruling does not immediately change government policy or the law. However, it may have a bearing on pending lawsuits and future government policy. Court cases are pending in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka.

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Japan is currently ruled by the ultra-conservative Liberal Democratic Party. It is the only G7 country (the others being Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US) to not recognize same-sex relationships.

At the moment, Taiwan is the only Asian country to recognize same-sex marriage, following a change in the law in 2019.

Those involved with the Sapporo case, and other local advocates, have welcomed the ruling.

“I hope this ruling serves as a first step for Japan to change,” said one of the women, who only identified herself as “Plaintiff No. 5.”, reports Associated Press.

“I couldn’t hold back my tears,” a male plaintiff told reporters outside the courthouse. “The court sincerely gave its thorough attention to our problem and I think it issued truly a good decision.”

“This is one huge step forward in Japan… We are moving closer to making our dream come true,” another defendant, Ai Nakajima, told the BBC.