A district court in Japan has ruled that the country’s lack of recognizing same-sex marriage is “unconstitutional.”
The ruling is the first one to address the legality of same-sex marriages in the country. The case that brought the issue into focus was one of many cases that came to district courts in the country and involved a collection of same-sex couples who sought “damages for mental suffering,” as reported by BBC.
The cases were brought forward in 2019. At the time, BBC reported that the couples were “suing for symbolic damages, arguing that being barred from marriage violates their constitutional rights. Should the courts agree, it would mean same-sex unions will have to be permitted in future.”
The Sapporo court involved in the ruling on Wednesday did not agree with the plaintiffs’ claim made for compensation of one million yen ($9,000), however, it did state that not permitting same-sex couples to get married is unconstitutional. Even though the plaintiffs did not win on the grounds of their original complaint, many LGBT activists are considering the ruling a win.
One of the plaintiffs to bring the case, Ai Nakajima, told BBC, “This is one huge step forward in Japan … We are moving closer to making our dream come true.”
The Associated Press reports the court found that not permitting same-sex couples to marry is discriminatory, violating Article 14 of the Japanese constitution, which prohibits discrimination “because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.” The court found that sexuality, similar to gender and race, is not a matter of personal preference, so not allowing same-sex couples to have the same advantages as heterosexual couples cannot be legitimized.
According to the AP, the court said, “Legal benefits stemming from marriages should equally benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals.”
The Asian country is the only nation in the G7 collection of developed countries that does not currently permit same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples have been allowed to receive partnership certificates in Japan since 2015. In 2017, Sapporo became the first major city in Japan to start giving out the documents. As of January, Kyodo News reports that 74 municipalities were administering the certificates in the country. However, the certificates are not legally binding. They allow gay and lesbian couples to have some rights, but not as many as married couples. According to the AP, “Same-sex couples cannot inherit their partner’s houses, property and other assets or have parental rights to any children.”
Support for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights seems to have grown in Japan in recent years. Kyodo News reports, “In a 2018 survey conducted by advertising giant Dentsu Inc., at least one in 11 people between 20 to 59 years old identified themselves as LGBT. The poll also showed 78.4 percent approved or were likely to approve of same-sex marriage. However 65.1 percent of LGBT respondents said they had not told anyone about their sexuality.”
Japan’s constitution states: “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.”
As NPR reported in 2019, the lawsuits brought forward state that the phrasing of the constitution needs to be reexamined in modern times and in consideration of other sections of the constitution that ensure equality.