Tokyo Court Offers Some Recognition of Same-Sex Unions

Tokyo Pride 2016
Tokyo’s LGBTQ community celebrates Pride in 2016.

The Tokyo High Court on March 4 ruled that same-sex couples should have the same legal rights as a straight married couple, signaling a measure of progress in a nation that has seen a boost in support for LGBTQ rights in recent years.

The ruling involved a case where a woman sued her ex-partner of seven years due to infidelity. The couple got married in the United States, though it is not clear whether that was a key factor in the case or if the ruling would have been different had the pair not gotten married.

The case originated in a district court north of Tokyo, where a judge deemed that their partnership had “merit as a common-law marriage with legal protections.” The defendant was ultimately ordered to pay the plaintiff $10,248 as payback for the infidelity.

The defendant proceeded to appeal the case to the High Court, arguing that there was no legal framework governing same-sex relationships, but the High Court affirmed the district court ruling.

“It was a relationship equivalent to that in which a man and woman come together to lead their lives in cooperation as a married couple,” said Tokyo High Court Judge Hitomi Akiyoshi, according to Mainichi, a Japanese news outlet.

The court also concluded, “A same-sex couple is an agreement between two people, and on that basis, it can be said that it bears the same obligations to fidelity that a legally married couple of opposite genders undertakes.”

Japanese news outlets did not specify the full ramifications of the ruling on the status of same-sex couples generally, but the development nonetheless represented a step forward for Japan’s queer community.

LGBTQ rights in Japan have lagged behind thanks in part to conservative lawmakers who have resisted opportunities to embrace queer issues that have advanced in other parts of the world. Marriage is still defined nationally as an exclusive union between a man and a woman and — like in the United States — comprehensive non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity are limited to certain areas, such as Tokyo.

However, there appears to be strong support for LGBTQ rights in Japan. A recent poll conducted by Dentsu Diversity Lab found that 78.4 percent of Japanese people between the ages of 20 and 59 support same-sex marriage rights and 82 percent of folks within the same demographic support Tokyo’s non-discrimination protections.

Queer rights advances have been seen in some other nations in the region. The LGBTQ community in Taiwan weathered international resistance from religious groups and secured same-sex marriage rights last year.

There was also a push by LGBTQ activists last year to usher in same-sex marriage rights in China, but members of Parliament squashed that movement for the time being.