Japan Court: Same-Sex Marriage Ban is Unconstitutional

Sato, independent candidate running for the upcoming upper house election, holding a rainbow flag, wave as Taniyama, gay supporter of Sato from Nakano LGBT Network Nijiiro, speaks during a campaign for the July 10 upper house election in Tokyo
A Japan court has ruled that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
REUTERS/Toru Hanai

A Japanese court ruled on March 17 that prohibiting same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, potentially paving the way for same-sex marriage rights in the future.

The Sapporo District Court in Hokkaido, an island in Japan, ruled that the nation’s refusal to recognize LGBTQ marriages violates a person’s right to equal treatment under the constitution. Currently, Japan’s constitution narrowly defines marriage as the “mutual consent of both sexes.”

In 2019, three couples filed a lawsuit accusing the government of psychological harm for banning same-sex marriage. The couples were seeking monetary damages, but the court tossed that claim.

“Legal benefits stemming from marriages should equally benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals,” the court said, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Associated Press.

The ruling does not immediately change Japan’s stance on same-sex marriage and it does not allow same-sex couples to marry. However, the court’s decision does provide more momentum for advocates who are fighting for the legal protections of LGBTQ people. Under Japan’s current laws, transgender people are forced to have surgery to obtain marriage rights.

“I’m really happy,” Gon Matsunaka, director of Marriage for All Japan, an LGBTQ activist group, said in an interview with Reuters. “Until the ruling was announced, we didn’t know this was what we’d get, and I’m just overjoyed.”

Matsunaka added, “Its value is absolutely measureless.”

In a tweet, Marriage for All Japan praised the outcome of the court’s decision. The fight is not over; the group is planning more rallies to help elevate the issues impacting Japan’s LGBTQ community.

The court’s decision is part of growing momentum toward queer and trans equality in the country. Last year, a court in Tokyo, Japan, ruled that same-sex couples should have the same legal rights as straight married couples.

Japan is the lone nation in the Group of Seven — including France, Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, United States, and Canada — where same-sex marriage is illegal.

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