TOKYO – A Japanese court ruled Wednesday that it is “unconstitutional” not to allow same-sex couples to marry. This is a precedent in the only G7 nation that does not fully recognize same-sex partnerships.
The district court ruling, the first in Japan on the legality of same-sex marriages, is a major symbolic victory in a country where the constitution still defines marriage as “consensual”.
Following the verdict, plaintiffs and supporters displayed rainbow flags and banners in front of the court.
While new law will be required before same-sex marriages can actually take place – which could take time in socially conservative Japan – the plaintiffs’ attorney described the verdict as “revolutionary” while LGBT activists believed it was life-changing.
“Its value is absolutely immeasurable,” said 44-year-old Gon Matsunaka, director of the Marriage for All Japan activist group and representative of Pride House Tokyo.
“Until the verdict was announced, we didn’t know we were going to get this and I’m just overjoyed.”
While Japanese law is viewed as relatively liberal by Asian standards, social attitudes have made the LGBT community largely invisible in the world’s third largest economy. Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriages in 2019.
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Under current rules in Japan, same-sex couples cannot legally marry, inherit their partner’s property – such as the house they may have shared – and have no parental rights over their partners’ children.
Partnership certificates issued by individual communities help same-sex couples rent a space together and have the right to visit a hospital, but they still do not give heterosexual couples equal legal rights.
“Sexual orientation cannot be changed or chosen by a person’s will,” the ruling said. “It’s discriminatory treatment … that they can’t even get some of the legal benefits that heterosexuals get.”
Sapporo District Court dismissed the six plaintiffs – two pairs of men and one pair of women – for damages who had asked the Japanese government to pay 1 million yen (US $ 9,168.42) each to recognize the pain they suffered as a result of them were unable to legally marry.
But Takeharu Kato, the plaintiffs’ attorney, described the verdict as “revolutionary” and called on parliament to work quickly on a law to make same-sex marriage possible.
“We praise this decision for the fact that it has taken up the serious appeals of the plaintiffs,” said the lawyer at a press conference.
Similar cases are currently being tried in four other courts across Japan, and that decision may indirectly affect the outcome of these cases by changing public opinion.
“Just because the sex of the person we love is different, we cannot get married. We live the same life as heterosexuals, have the same problems and the same joys,” said one of the plaintiffs, a woman who only called ” is known. ” E. “
“Even though our lives are exactly the same, the nation would not realize it.”
While homosexual sex has been legal in Japan since 1880, social stigma means many haven’t even gotten out to their families. The Japanese verdict also came just days after the Vatican said priests could not bless same-sex unions.
Some in the business world say that Japanese rules that prohibit same-sex marriage undermine the country’s competitive advantage by making it difficult for companies, especially overseas firms, to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce in an increasingly international economy.
Tokyo residents also welcomed the verdict, saying it was time things changed.
“Japan has always been conservative, but these days things are getting more open,” said 60-year-old dentist Kyoko Enomoto. “I think it will open up a lot more from now on.”