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Japan’s archaic ban on same-sex marriage is ‘unconstitutional’, court rules

Lily Wakefield March 17, 2021
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Pride participants in Tokyo, Japan, call for same-sex marriage

Participants hold placards and banners during the Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2015 parade. (Getty/ TORU YAMANAKA/AFP)

A district court in Japan has ruled that blocking same-sex marriage is “unconstitutional”, in a historic victory for the country’s LGBT+ community.

Although the country’s constitution currently defines marriage as based on “the mutual consent of both sexes”, the court in Japan’s Sapporo district sided with the plaintiffs, who were among 13 same-sex couples to file lawsuits against the Japanese government on Valentine’s Day 2019.

The couples filed lawsuits, claiming damages for the lack of recognition of marriage equality, in four district courts – the capital Tokyo, Sapporo in the northern island of Hokkaido, and Nagoya and Osaka in central Japan. Sapporo is the first district to give a verdict, more than two years later.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the wording in the constitution was to prevent forced marriage, and therefore should not be used to prevent same-sex couples from marriage.

Although the Sapporo district court did not grant the damages for mental suffering, it did rule that preventing same-sex couples from having equal access to marriage was “unconstitutional”, which could set a precedent for the rulings of the other district courts.

According to Reuters, the ruling stated: “Sexual orientation cannot be changed or selected by a person’s will.

“It is discriminatory treatment… that they cannot receive even some of the legal benefits that heterosexuals do.”

One plaintiff told the BBC: “This is one huge step forward in Japan… We are moving closer to making our dream come true.”

The landmark ruling is a huge victory for the Japanese LGBT+ community, but even if all four courts ruled in favour of the couples, it does not guarantee that the entire country will legalise marriage equality.

Although many areas in Japan offer certificates to same-sex couples allowing them some legal benefits available to opposite-sex couples, for example the right to rent a home together and hospital visitation rights, without same-sex marriage they are unable to inherit their partner’s assets and have no parental rights over their partners’ children.

Compared to many other Asian countries, Japan is relatively progressive when it comes to LGBT+ rights, but being queer is still taboo in Japanese society and anti-LGBT+ prejudice is still rife.

Taiwan became the first nation in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage in 2019.

Related topics: Japan, same sex marriage

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