Campaigners see hope in Japan same-sex marriage rulings

The latest decision – from Fukuoka court – says not allowing same-sex marriage is an ‘unconstitutional situation’.

Tokyo Pride rally in 2023
Campaigners are fighting against claims that alternatives to marriage offer LGBTQ people equal rights [File: Yuichi Yamazaki/AFP]

A Japanese regional court has ruled the country’s failure to recognise same-sex marriages is an “unconstitutional situation”, offering hope to campaigners who have brought a series of lawsuits on the issue with mixed results.

The ruling on Thursday by the court in southern Fukuoka rounds off the first stage of a coordinated legal battle launched by campaigners in 2019.

Five rulings on same-sex marriage have now been handed down around Japan – with two saying the bans are unconstitutional and one that they are not. A Tokyo ruling upheld the ban on same-sex marriage but said a lack of legal protection for same-sex families violated their human rights.

Japan is the only Group of Seven (G7) nation without legal protection for same-sex unions.

More than a dozen couples filed claims in five district courts, seeking damages from the state for preventing them from getting married.

None of the courts upheld the requests for compensation, but judges were split on the question of whether the absence of marriage equality in Japan violates its constitution.

All the courts “at least agree on the need for legislation that publicly endorses the relationships of same-sex unions and grants them legal protection equivalent to heterosexual couples”, Takeharu Kato, a lawyer who brought a case in northern Sapporo, told the AFP news agency.

Thursday’s ruling in Fukuoka echoed the earlier decision in Tokyo, finding that the lack of marriage equality amounts to an “unconstitutional situation” while stopping shy of declaring it an outright violation.

“Current laws that don’t grant same-sex couples ways to legally become family with the partners of their choice represent an unconstitutional situation” in terms of “individual dignity”, the court said.

Opinion polls show about 70 percent of the public supports same-sex marriage, and more than 300 municipalities, including Tokyo, now offer some of the same benefits to same-sex couples as married ones.

The conservative governing party of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, however, remains noncommittal about the issue despite strong pressure from other G7 nations, especially the United States.

In February, Kishida fired an aide for what he said were “outrageous” comments against LGBTQ people.

The 1947 constitution says marriage requires “the mutual consent of both sexes”, but it also states that all people “are equal under the law”.

Appeals are expected against several of the rulings, and plaintiffs plan to push back against the argument that alternatives to marriage offer LGBTQ people equal rights, Kato said.

“What we want is marriage.”

The latest ruling comes as Japan’s parliament edges closer to passing new legislation on “promoting understanding” of LGBTQ rights.

The proposed bill says “unjust discrimination” towards sexual minorities must not happen.

Activists have dismissed the legislation as a “meaningless gesture” because of the watered-down language.

A vote could take place as early as next week.

Source: News Agencies