In a landmark verdict, a district court in Japan on Wednesday ruled that the country’s failure to recognise same-sex marriage was “unconstitutional”, reported AFP. Japan is the only country in the Group of Seven, or G7, that does not fully recognise same-sex partnerships.
More than a dozen couples had filed lawsuits in district courts across the country in 2019 seeking the recognition of same-sex marriage. In its first ruling on these lawsuits, the court in Sapporo city, however, refused the request for damages of 1 million yen (nearly Rs 6.65 lakh) per person for plaintiffs, reported Reuters.
The couples – two of men and one of women – had argued that they were being denied the same legal rights as heterosexuals and sought damages in acknowledgement of the pain they suffered by not being able to legally marry. The court said that it would not uphold the demand for damages as lawmakers may have struggled to legislate on the matter.
“I couldn’t hold back my tears,” said a male plaintiff. “The court sincerely gave its thorough attention to our problem and I think it issued truly a good decision.”
Similar cases are currently being heard in four other courts and this ruling may indirectly influence their outcomes by changing public opinion, said Gon Matsunaka, director of activist group Marriage for All Japan, reported Reuters.
The LGBTQ community in Japan welcomed the court’s ruling. “I’m really happy,” said Matsunaka. “Until the ruling was announced, we didn’t know this was what we’d get and I’m just overjoyed.”
Kanako Otsuji, an openly-homosexual legislator from the Opposition party, said that she was “truly, truly happy” about the verdict. “With this ruling, I urge the Diet [Japan’s bicameral legislature], as the legislative branch of the government, to deliberate a proposed amendment to the civil code to make same-sex marriage possible,” the lawmaker from Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan tweeted.
Japan’s Constitution says that “marriage shall be only with the mutual consent of both sexes”. Under the current rules in the country, same-sex couples are not allowed to marry, cannot inherit their partner’s assets and have no parental rights over their partner’s children. To help same-sex couples rent a place together and have hospital visitation rights, individual municipalities issue partnership certificates. However, all municipalities do not do the same.
Historically, Japan has been tolerant of homosexuality, according to AFP. Homosexual sex has been legal in Japan since 1880 but social stigma stops many to openly admit to their sexual orientation even to their families.