TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese district court ruled Wednesday that it was “unconstitutional” not to allow same-sex couples to marry, setting a new precedent in the only G7 nation that did not fully recognize same-sex partnerships even though it refused to pay compensation claims.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys and supporters display a banner reading “Unconstitutional Decision” in this photo of Kyodo after a district court ruled on the legality of same-sex marriages in Sapporo District Court in Sapporo, Hokkaido, northern Japan on March 17, 2021. Mandatory Credit Kyodo / via REUTERS
The ruling, the first in Japan on the legality of same-sex marriages, is a major symbolic victory in a country where the constitution defines marriage as “mutual consent”.
Currently, same-sex couples cannot inherit their partner’s assets – like the house they may have shared – nor do they have parental rights over children their partners have.
Although partnership certificates issued by individual communities across the country help with renting housing and hospital visit rights, they still do not allow the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.
The Sapporo District Court dismissed the six plaintiffs – two pairs of men and one pair of women – for damages who had asked the Japanese government to pay 1 million yen each to recognize the pain they suffered from not being able to legally marry.
But the realization that it was unconstitutional not to allow them to marry was the victory that plaintiffs, their lawyers and activists had hoped for as an important symbolic step forward and precedent.
Similar cases are currently being heard in four other courts across Japan, and that decision could affect the results there as well.
Japanese laws are relatively liberal by Asian standards. Gay sex has been legal since 1880, but social attitudes keep the LGBT community largely invisible and many have yet to come out on their own for their families.
Some in the business world say that Japan’s disallowance of same-sex marriage makes it difficult for companies, especially overseas companies, to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce in an increasingly international economy.
The American Chamber of Commerce issued a statement last year that its stance made Japan less competitive internationally.
A number of companies, including international companies and Japanese companies like Panasonic, have taken their own steps to circumvent the situation. But there are limits.
“There is nothing they can do about things that are part of the national system, such as pensions,” said Masa Yanagisawa, head of Prime Services at Goldman Sachs Japan and board member of the NGO Marriage for All Japan.
“All other advanced countries have this, so Japan will lose competitively. Then there is the fact that people cannot be who they are. It’s getting pretty business critical. “
Reporting by Elaine Lies; Edited by Shri Navaratnam and Ana Nicolaci da Costa