An Osaka court yesterday ruled that Japan’s ban on same-sex marriage was not “unconstitutional,” dealing a setback to LGBTQ rights advocates in the only G7 nation that does not allow people of the same gender to marry.
Three same-sex couples — two male, one female — had filed the case in the Osaka district court, only the second to be heard on the issue in Japan.
In addition to rejecting their claim that being unable to marry was unconstitutional, the court also threw out their demands for ￥1 million (US$7,414) in damages for each couple.
Photo: Kyodo/via Reuters
“This is awful, just awful,” an unidentified female plaintiff said outside the courthouse in footage shown on public broadcaster NHK after the ruling, her voice cracking.
It was not immediately clear whether the plaintiffs planned to appeal.
The ruling dashes advocates’ hopes of raising pressure on Japan’s government to address the issue after a Sapporo court in March last year decided in favor of a claim that not allowing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
The ruling triggered a surge of comment in social media in the country, where public support for same-sex marriage has been increasing in opinion polls.
“Unbelievable,” one lawyer working on the third case on the issue being heard in Tokyo, with a verdict due later this year, wrote on Twitter.
Japan’s constitution defines marriage as being based on “the mutual consent of both sexes.”
However, the introduction of partnership rights for same-sex couples in the capital, Tokyo, last week, along with rising support in polls, had increased advocates’ and lawyers’ hopes for the Osaka case.
Japanese law is considered relatively liberal in some areas by Asian standards, but across the continent only Taiwan has legalized same-sex marriage so far.
Under the current rules in Japan, same-sex couples are not allowed to legally marry, cannot inherit their partner’s assets — such as the house they might have shared — and also have no parental rights over their partner’s children.
Although partnership certificates issued by some individual municipalities help same-sex couples to rent a place together and have hospital visitation rights, they do not give them the full legal rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.
Last week the Tokyo prefectural government passed a bill to recognize same-sex partnership agreements — meaning more than half of Japan’s population is now covered by such agreements.
While Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said the issue needs to be “carefully considered,” his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has not disclosed any plans to review the matter or propose legislation, although some senior LDP figures do favor reform.
The upcoming case in Tokyo means public debate on the issue will continue, particularly in the capital where an opinion poll by the Tokyo government late last year found about 70 percent were in favor of same-sex marriage.
Legalizing same-sex marriage would have far-reaching implications both socially and economically, advocates say, by making it easier for companies to attract and retain talented workers, and even help lure foreign firms to the world’s third-biggest economy.
“If Japan wants to once again take a leading position in Asia, it has a really good opportunity right now,” said Masa Yanagisawa, head of Prime Services at Goldman Sachs and a board member of activist group “Marriage for all Japan,” speaking prior to the Osaka verdict.
“International firms are reviewing their Asian strategy and LGBTQ inclusivity is becoming a topic... International businesses don’t want to invest in a location that isn’t LGBTQ-friendly,” Yanagisawa said.
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