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Hitherto Unprecedented!

A District Court of Japan, known as a conservative nation (the only G7 nation not to fully recognise same-sex unions), recently declared that denying consent to same-sex marriage is unconstitutional!

Activists, fighting for the Legal Right for same-sex couples, have welcomed the ruling, calling it unprecedented. Makiko Terahara – the Representative Director of Marriage for All Japan, an organisation that campaigns for marriage equality, and Co-chair of the Tokyo Defence Team for the same-sex marriage case – has said that it is a victory for them. In 2019, the first lawsuits in Japan were filed in five district courts, directly challenging the constitutional violation of not recognising same-sex marriages. On March 17, the Sapporo District Court gave its ruling on the current law, citing Article 14 of the Japanese Constitution. This is the first ruling on same-sex marriage in Japan, and it is ground-breaking, indeed!

On March 17, the Sapporo District Court stated that Sexuality, like Race and Gender, should not be considered as a matter of individual preference. Therefore, prohibiting same-sex couples from receiving benefits given to heterosexual couples could not be justified, it added. The ruling stressed: “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.” However, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ demand for Government compensation. According to activists in Japan’s gay and lesbian communities, the ruling is certainly a symbolic victory as far as legalisation of same-sex marriage is concerned. Although the Asia-Pacific Nation has not yet enacted a law on same-sex marriage, activists believe that the ruling would prompt the Government to legalise the same-sex marriage in the future.

It may be noted that Bisexual Marriage has been legal in Japan since 1880. Such a marriage only requires the consent of both parties. However, same-sex marriage is still considered illegal, there. Apart from legal barriers, same-sex couples face various troubles because of the so-called conservative society in Japan. Many are of the opinion that the Japanese Society is not Liberal enough for homosexuals. Naturally, gay and lesbian communities, as well as the activists, are overwhelmed by this ruling. Talking to the local media, Director of Marriage for All Japan and representative of Pride House Tokyo 44-year old Gon Matsunaka stated: “Its value is absolutely measureless. Until the ruling was announced, we didn’t know this was what we’d get and I’m just overjoyed.

Although Japan is legally more liberal than other Asian countries, it is yet to accept the legal rights of the homosexual community. In the world’s third-largest economy, same-sex couples cannot inherit their partner’s property, in the absence of law related to their marriage. They cannot become owners of their partner’s house or guardians of their partner’s children. Incidentally, members of the gay and lesbian communities in Japan can rent a house or get admitted to a hospital by showing partnership certificates, received from various municipalities, to the concerned authorities. Still, homosexuals are deprived of the rights enjoyed by heterosexuals.

Two male couples, along with a woman, recently filed a lawsuit against the Government of Japan at the Sapporo District Court, seeking JPY 1 million (or USD 9,000) as compensation. They wanted the Government to acknowledge pain that they were going through for not being able to legally marry their own partners. Later, their lawyers, too, welcomed the verdict, saying that they successfully overcame a legal hurdle. Takeharu Kato, the lawyer of the plaintiffs, called the verdict “revolutionary” overall, stating: “We praise this ruling for taking in the plaintiffs’ earnest appeals.

Even, Tokyo residents have welcomed the ruling, saying that it is about time things changed…

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