Japan is the only member of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations that does not recognize same-sex marriage. However, the LGBT community had seen a glimmer of hope when recently a Japanese court ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
According to AP News, 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 be justified.”
The summary of the ruling stated: “Legal benefits stemming from marriages should equally benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals.”
Further, Judge Tomoko Takebe said that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage is a violation of the Article 14 of the Japanese constitution. It reads: “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.”
The court was hearing a case filed by three same-sex couples in 2019. They were challenging Japan’s prohibition of same-sex marriage saying that it violates their constitution. They were also seeking compensation from the government of about $9,200 or ￥1,000,000 each for the psychological damage they had to suffer from not being able to legally marry.
Although the ruling stated that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, the court denied monetary compensation for the plaintiffs. In addition, the court’s ruling is said to have “no immediate legal effect and same-sex couples are still not allowed to marry.”
Still, both the human rights activists and the LGBTQ advocates alike in Japan hope that the landmark ruling will set a precedent for other cases and that it will give the much-needed push for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
After the Sapporo District Court issued its ruling, Director Gon Matsunaka of the activist group Marriage for All Japan and president of the Pride House Tokyo consortium told Japan Today:
Until the ruling was announced, we didn’t know this was what we’d get and I’m just overjoyed. Its value is absolutely measureless.”
Because of the same-sex marriage ban, LGBTQ couples in Japan do not have the same guaranteed legal protections as heterosexual married couples do. They don’t have inheritance and hospital visitation rights and they cannot adopt children together among many others. There are, however, about 76 municipalities and three prefectures in Japan that issue “partnership certificates.”
Although not legally binding, partnership certificates give same-sex couples hospital visitation rights and enable them to rent apartment more easily.