Japan court rules lack of same-sex marriage recognition as unconstitutional

The lawsuit largely revolved around the interpretation of marriage.

Matthias Ang | March 17, 2021, 04:58 PM

A district court in Japan has ruled the lack of same-sex marriage recognition in the country as unconstitutional, Reuters and Kyodo News reported.

The ruling was issued by the Sapporo District Court on a suit brought forward by three same-sex couples — two male and one female — in Hokkaido.

Demand for damages rejected

However, the court rejected the demand for damages of 1 million yen (S$12,300) to be awarded to each of the couples, over what the plaintiffs called the psychological damage suffered from the inability to marry legally.

All three couples had attempted to register their marriages with authorities in Hokkaido in January 2019, but were rejected on the grounds that same-sex marriage is not legal.

They then filed a lawsuit over the matter on Valentine's Day in the following month.

Lawsuit revolved primarily around the interpretation of marriage

Kyodo News further reported that the lawsuit revolved primarily around the interpretation of marriage, which is defined as such in Article 24 of Japan's constitution:

"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."

Lawyers representing the three couples argued that the intent in the constitution was to preserve gender equality and equal respect, and does not preclude same-sex marriage.

However, the government has interpreted Article 24 such that it only applies to heterosexual couples, with husband and wife referring to man and woman in the civil and family registration laws.

The plaintiffs also put forth the argument that the government is violating Article 14 of the constitution which guarantees the right to equality, to which the court agreed.

Lawsuit was filed on Valentine's Day in 2019

The lawsuit was not the only one of its kind filed on Valentine's Day in 2019, however.

Another 10 couples also filed similar lawsuits on the same day in the cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.

Three same-sex couples in Fukuoka also filed a similar lawsuit in September of the same year.

Ruling is significant for community

The ruling has been hailed by the country's LGBT activists for its significance, who said that the ruling had potential life-changing consequences.

The director of activist group Marriage for All Japan and representative at Pride House Tokyo, Gon Matsunaka, said:

"I’m really happy. Until the ruling was announced, we didn’t know this was what we’d get and I’m just overjoyed.

Its value is absolutely measureless."

He also added that the ruling might indirectly influence the outcome of the other lawsuits by shifting public opinion.

Separately, the head of Prime Services at Goldman Sachs Japan, Masa Yanagisawa, who is also a board member of the organisation, Marriage for All Japan, said that not allowing same-sex marriage is hurting the country's competitiveness in attracting and retaining highly-skilled labour.

Yanagisawa said, "All the other advanced countries have this, so Japan will lose out competitively. Then there’s the fact that people can’t be who they are. It becomes quite business critical."

Top photo by Alessandro Di Ciommo/NurPhoto via Getty Images