In a historic verdict, a court in Japan ruled that the country’s ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. 

While several provinces across Japan allow LGBTQ+ couples to register their partnerships, the relationships do not have legal recognition in the country. The Sapporo district court, the capital city of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, said the government’s non-recognition of same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.

Two male couples and one female couple had filed a compensation claim of one million yen ($9000) per person for being denied the same rights as heterosexual couples. The demand for damages was rejected.

However, presiding judge Tomoko Takebe sided with the couples on their claim that the government was violating Article 14 of the Constitution that grants the right to equality. Despite the rejection of compensation for damages, the court statement was in itself a victory for LGBT+ rights activists.

Equal Rights

Based on Article 24 of the constitution, marriage in Japan is allowed as long as it occurs with the “mutual consent of both sexes”. Advocates argued that the wording does not explicitly prohibit same-sex marriages. Lawyers for the couples argued that the phrasing is meant to prevent forced marriages.

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

Previously thirteen same-sex couples across Japan took legal action in February 2019 against the government, demanding the right to get married. Though Japan is a very traditional country, polls indicate that the vast majority of younger Japanese population support same-sex marriage. So far, Japan is the only country in the G7 group of developed nations that does not allow same-sex marriage.

“I’m really happy. Until the ruling was announced, we didn’t know this was what we’d get and I’m just overjoyed,” said Gon Matsunaka, director of activist group Marriage for All Japan. He added that the value of the ruling is immeasurable.

Economic consequence

The American Chamber of Commerce issued a statement in 2020 on instituting marriage equality in Japan.

The statement read: “Japan has no national LGBT anti-discrimination policy, and LGBT couples have no legal marital protection…Opening marriage to LGBT couples would help to level the international playing field for companies in Japan by creating a more inclusive living and working environment with greater rights and protections for LGBT couples.”

With the court’s ruling, Japan seems to be headed towards a more inclusive community. Like one of the plaintiffs said, all that the government needs to do now is act upon the ruling.



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