Japan Court Upholds Same-Sex Marriage Ban, Beleaguering LGBTQ+ Marriage Equality Efforts
Three same-sex couples each sought 1 million yen ($7,414) in damages associated with the country’s ban on same-sex marriage. The allegations of illegal discrimination raised by the plaintiffs–two male couples and one female–come parallel to several similar lawsuits filed in the cities of Sapporo, Tokyo, Nagoya, and Fukuoka.
The Japanese government’s ban on same-sex marriage was upheld on Monday as the Osaka District Court moved to reject three same-sex couples’ claims that Tokyo’s failure to overturn its “discriminatory” ban on same-sex marriage violated the country’s constitution.
The Osaka court argued that, while the disadvantages faced by same-sex couples have eased over time, "there have not been enough discussions among people in Japan" regarding the benefits that would exist under a system that recognized same-sex and opposite-sex unions.
At the same time, future social shifts could result in a different court ruling, the Osaka District Court said, noting that “it may be possible to create a new system” that would provide same-sex couples with the same allowances and guarantees as those in traditional marriages.
The plaintiffs and their legal team have pledged to appeal the decision, panning the Monday ruling as unacceptable because “the court stayed away from making a decision.”
“We don’t have time to feel discouraged,” said plaintiff Akiyoshi Tanaka, as reported by the Associated Press.
In a same-day response, Amnesty International demanded Japanese government officials “undertake a thorough review of all laws, policies and practices that discriminate against same-sex couples in all walks of life.”
“Japan’s repressive ban on same-sex marriage must be consigned to history,” East Asia researcher Boram Jang said in a quoted statement.
© AP Photo / Shizuo KambayashiPeople march with rainbow-colored and heart-shaped posters and a banner during the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) community in Tokyo's Shibuya district, May 7, 2017. Japan's capital has announced Tuesday, May 10, 2022, it will start recognizing same-sex partnerships to ease the burdens faced by residents in their daily lives, but the unions will not be considered legal marriages.
People march with rainbow-colored and heart-shaped posters and a banner during the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) community in Tokyo's Shibuya district, May 7, 2017. Japan's capital has announced Tuesday, May 10, 2022, it will start recognizing same-sex partnerships to ease the burdens faced by residents in their daily lives, but the unions will not be considered legal marriages.
© AP Photo / Shizuo Kambayashi
Meanwhile, the decision was well-received by government officials.
"The court recognized our claims that provisions in the civil law regarding marriage are not against the Constitution,” said a Justice Ministry official, as reported by Kyodo News.
The Monday ruling came as the second instance of a such a case being heard by a District Court in Japan, the only G7 member nation that does not legally recognize same-sex marriage in some form.
The issue of same-sex unions remains a divisive topic in the land of the rising sun, as the Monday ruling in Osaka came in opposition to a Sapporo court decision handed down last year.
In March 2021, the Sapporo District Court ruled in favor of two same-sex couples who asserted the government’s failure to overturn the country’s ban on same-sex marriage amounted to a violation of Article 14 of the constitution, which guarantees the right to equality.
“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,” according to Article 14.
The Sapporo and Osaka courts both rejected the plaintiffs’ requests for 1 million yen ($7,414) to cover costs associated with psychological damage and discrimination.
Article 24 of the constitution has remained a point of contention between same-sex marriage activists and the Japanese government, as Tokyo has traditionally interpreted the article as evidence that marriage can only exist between a man and woman, or “husband and wife.”
“Marriage must be based solely on the mutual consent of both sexes and must be maintained through cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis,” according to Article 24.
However, LGBTQ+ activists have argued that the use of “husband and wife” speaks more to the original authors’ attempt at maintaining gender equality and individual self-worth, and less to the assumed parameters for marriage.
Same-sex couples are not just blocked from having a formal status, as individuals in an officially recognized marriage receive a number of government guarantees, including allowances on inheritance–including home ownership–and parental rights over a spouse’s child.