TOKYO — A Japanese court ruled on Wednesday that not allowing same-sex couples to get married is “unconstitutional,” setting a precedent in the only G7 nation not to fully recognise same-sex partnership.
The ruling by a district court, the first in Japan on the legality of same-sex marriages, is a major symbolic victory in a country where the constitution still defines marriage as being based on “the mutual consent of both sexes”.
Following the ruling, plaintiffs and supporters unfurled rainbow flags and banners in front of the court.
While a new law will be needed before same-sex marriages can actually take place – which could take some time in socially conservative Japan – the plaintiffs’ lawyer called the ruling “revolutionary”, while LGBT activists deemed it life-changing.
“Its value is absolutely measureless,” said 44-year old Gon Matsunaka, director of activist group Marriage for All Japan and representative of Pride House Tokyo.
“Until the ruling was announced, we didn’t know this was what we’d get and I’m just overjoyed.”
While Japanese law is considered relatively liberal by Asian standards, social attitudes have kept the LGBT community largely invisible in the world’s third largest economy. Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalise same-sex marriages in 2019.
Under the current rules in Japan, same-sex couples are not allowed to legally marry, can’t inherit their partner’s assets – such as the house they may have shared – and also have no parental rights over their partners’ children.
Though partnership certificates issued by individual municipalities help same-sex couples to rent a place together and have hospital visitation rights, they still don’t give them the same full legal rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.
“Sexual orientation cannot be changed or selected by a person’s will,” the ruling said. “It is discriminatory treatment … that they cannot receive even some of the legal benefits that heterosexuals do.”
Reporting by Sean Tyler Chan / AdChoiceTV News