Gay marriage in Japan
A court endorses gay marriage, but the government remains opposed
On Valentine’s Day in 2019, 13 same-sex couples filed lawsuits in four cities across Japan. Their case was simple: they argued that their partnerships were no different from those of heterosexual couples, and that the government’s refusal to recognise gay marriage violated the constitution’s promise of equal treatment for all. This week a district court in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, came down on the side of the three couples who sued there, the first such ruling by a Japanese court. It is, as a sign held by supporters outside the courtroom proclaimed, “a big step forward for marriage equality”.
Yet it is also, for the time being, only a symbolic one. The three-judge panel declared that preventing the couples from marrying contradicted Article 14 of the constitution, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin. Yet it also refused to award damages to the plaintiffs, arguing that public opinion was evolving quickly, and that the government should be given time to legislate on the matter.
Neither the constitution nor any laws explicitly ban same-sex marriages. Some local governments issue documents certifying same-sex partnerships, which can simplify hunts for flats and visits to partners in hospital. But the national government does not acknowledge these, depriving gay couples of certain benefits of marriage. That leaves Japan out of step with other rich countries—it is the only G7 member that does not recognise same-sex unions.