Japan court upholds same-sex marriage ban but leaves hope for LGBTQ+ couples

While upholding the ban, the court in Japan recognised that the lack of recognition for same-sex unions represented a human rights violation.

A group of plaintiffs who brought a legal challenge to a same-sex marriage ban in Japan, holding a banner that reads 'marriage equality'.
Image: Twitter - @EbbittWilliam

On Wednesday, November 30, a court in Tokyo ruled that while the ban on same-sex marriage was not unconstitutional, the lack of recognition for same-sex unions represented a violation of the human rights of LGBTQ+ people in Japan.

The case in question was brought in front of the Tokyo district court by four same-sex couples who claimed that the provisions of the Civil Code and Family Registration Law were in violation of the constitution because they do not recognise same-sex marriage. The eight plaintiffs argued that the ban on same-sex marriage in Japan represented an infringement of their human rights and demanded 1 million yen (approximately €6,950) in damages.

The court rejected their demand and ruled that the ban was not unconstitutional, however, they also reasoned that “the absence of a legal system is a serious threat and there are no reasonable grounds in light of the dignity of the individual”.

The group of plaintiffs welcomed the verdict with a positive outlook, claiming that they were encouraged and considered it “a step forward for marriage equality”. One of them, who wished to be called Katsu, said: “There were parts of this that were disappointing, but parts of it gave me hope”.

“This is actually a fairly positive ruling,” explained Nobuhito Sawasaki, a lawyer involved in the case. “While marriage remains between a man and a woman, and the ruling supported that, it also said that the current situation with no legal protections for same-sex families is not good, and suggested something must be done about it”.

Same-sex marriages are currently not recognised in Japan, though partnership certificates are issued in several municipalities, including Tokyo, covering about 60% of the population. However, such certificates do not grant the same rights that married couples enjoy.

Commenting on the Japan court’s ruling, Boram Jang, a researcher at Amnesty International’s East Asia, said: “While the court today endorsed the government’s discriminatory ban on same-sex marriage, it also acknowledged that the absence of any legal system for same-sex couples to have families was an infringement of their human rights. This, at least, is cause for hope.”

“Nevertheless, much more needs to be done to combat the discrimination faced by LGBTI people in Japanese society. It is time for the government to change course on LGBTI rights,” Jang added. “The government must put in place concrete measures that end the discrimination same-sex couples and other LGBTI people face in all walks of life.”

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