After Taiwan, Japan takes its first big step towards marriage equality.
A Japanese court has for the first time ruled that same-sex marriage should be permitted under the country’s constitution, a victory that will pave the way for further efforts for legalization.
The Sapporo District Court said sexuality, like race and gender, is not a matter of individual preference, therefore prohibiting same-sex couples from receiving benefits given to heterosexual couples cannot continue to be be justified by law.
“Legal benefits stemming from marriages should equally benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals,” the court said in a summary of the ruling. Judge Tomoko Takebe said that not allowing same-sex marriages violates Article 14 of the Japanese constitution, which prohibits discrimination “because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.”
The court heard a case brought by three same-sex couples who were seeking government compensation for the hardships they had endured as a result of not being able to legally marry. While the court declined to financially compensate the plaintiffs, the ruling is a major victory that could influence similar court cases and help push for parliamentary debate and changes to the law to allow same-sex marriage.
Outside the court, the plaintiffs’ lawyers and their supporters held up rainbow flags and a banner saying “a big first step toward equality.”
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs said they planned to appeal the ruling, because it did not hold the government responsible for the damages sought.
“We need to make clear that the parliament has left alone the unconstitutional situation by abandoning its legislative duties, and have them take action promptly,” they said in a statement.
Japan is the only country in the G7 group of major industrialized nations where same-sex marriages are not legal. But in Asia, Taiwan is the only place where same-sex marriage is legal following legislation passed in May 2019.
Support for LGBTQ people is rising in Japan, but widespread discrimination persists and same-sex couples face many legal obstacles and disadvantages that married couples don’t for example, same-sex couples cannot inherit their partner’s houses, property and other assets or have parental rights to any children. Japan also refuses to issue spousal visas to partners of same-sex couples legally married overseas.
Four other lawsuits are pending in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka.