Court says not allowing same sex marriage is ‘unconstitutional’ in major victory for LGBTQ community.
A Japanese district court on Wednesday ruled that not allowing same-sex couples to marry is “unconstitutional”, setting a new precedent in the only G7 nation not to fully recognise same-sex unions.
More than a dozen same-sex couples filed lawsuits in 2019 seeking to force the government to recognise gay marriage.
In the first ruling on the lawsuits, a court in Sapporo turned down a request for damages of one million yen ($9,000) per person for being denied the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.
But the court found that the failure to recognise same-sex marriage was unconstitutional – hailed as a major breakthrough by campaigners.
“I couldn’t hold back my tears. The court sincerely gave its thorough attention to our problem and I think it issued truly a good decision,” a male plaintiff told reporters outside the courthouse.
The ruling, the first in Japan on the legality of same-sex marriages, is a considerable symbolic victory in a country where the constitution defines marriage as being based on “the mutual consent of both sexes”.
Individual municipalities currently issue partnership certificates to help couples with renting places to live and hospital visitation rights but same-sex couples do not have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. They cannot inherit their partner’s assets – such as the house they may have shared – and nor do they have parental rights to any children their partners may have.
By Asian standards, Japanese laws are relatively liberal – homosexual sex has been legal since 1880 – but social attitudes keep the LGBTQ community largely invisible and many have yet to come out even to their families.
Some in the business world say Japan’s not allowing same-sex marriage makes it difficult for companies, especially foreign companies, to attract and keep highly-skilled labour.
The American Chamber of Commerce last year issued a statement saying that Japan’s stance makes it less competitive internationally as a result.
A number of companies have taken their own steps to work around the situation, including international companies and Japanese firms such as Panasonic. But there are limits.
“For things that are part of the national system, such as pensions, there’s nothing they can do,” said Masa Yanagisawa, the head of Prime Services at Goldman Sachs Japan and a board member of the NGO Marriage for All Japan.
“All the other advanced countries have this, so Japan will lose out competitively. Then there’s the fact that people can’t be who they are. It becomes quite business-critical.”