A court in Japan has ruled that the state ban on LGBTQ+ marriage is unconstitutional. This is the first time a Japanese court has recognised the rights of same-sex marriages. Some provinces have previously allowed the local register of LGBTQ+ couples, but they lack legal recognition across Japan.
Several court cases were filed by local LGBTQ+ advocates to challenge the law. One of the cases, filed by six defendants (two male couples and one female couple) secured the historic verdict in Sapporo District Court. The defendants were seeking damages for the mental suffering caused by the ban, but this was denied by Judge Tomoko Takebe.
However, the judge ruled 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.”
Per current Japanese law, marriage is allowed following “the mutual consent of both sexes.” This has been interpreted as allowing marriage only between a man and a woman. Advocates argued the wording does not explicitly prohibit same-sex marriages. Judge Takebe highlighted the emphasis on consent.“Legal benefits stemming from marriages should equally benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals,” said the court’s summary. Whilst the ruling does not immediately change government policy or the law, it is likely to have a bearing on pending lawsuits and future government policy. There are pending court cases in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka.
Japan is coming under increasing focus as it hopes to stage the postponed Tokyo Olympics this year. The country is predominantly socially conservative and is currently governed by the ultra-conservative Liberal Democratic Party. It is the only G7 member country that fails to recognize same-sex relationships.