HomeWorldAsiaLGBTQ Advocates Celebrate Tokyo Court's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Upholding

LGBTQ Advocates Celebrate Tokyo Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Upholding

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On Wednesday, the Tokyo District Court upheld Japan’s same-sex marriage ban. It also noted that the lack of a legal system for same-sex couples to have families violated their rights. While not ideal, LGBTQ rights advocates say the decision in Japan’s capital and most populous city offers hope.

Yuri Igarashi, president of the non-profit Rainbow Soup, which promotes awareness of LGBTQ issues in Japan, tells TIME that despite being upsetting, this is good news. “This ruling advances same-sex marriage.”

Eight people sued Japan’s same-sex marriage ban on Wednesday for about $7,000 each, claiming it violates the constitution. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ claims. According to Kyodo News, the lack of a legal system for same-sex couples to become family members is “unconstitutional” and a “grave threat and obstacle” to humanity.

According to Nikkei, the judge cited Article 24 of the country’s constitution, which states that marriage should be between a man and a woman but also that “matters pertaining to marriage and the family” should be enacted based on “individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes.”

Japan, the only G7 industrialised nation that doesn’t recognise same-sex unions, has had mixed success with its LGBTQ rights movement.

The Tokyo ruling is the third in two years, with more expected in the coming months. On Valentine’s Day 2019, over a dozen same-sex couples sued district courts for marriage equality in Japan.

Both previous decisions rejected compensation claims but disagreed on the ban’s constitutionality. In June, an Osaka court ruled that the constitution’s freedom of marriage only applied to male-female unions, making the country’s same-sex marriage ban constitutional. In March last year, the Sapporo District Court ruled that Japan’s marriage definition, which excludes same-sex couples, violated constitutional equality.

The Tokyo metropolitan government started issuing partnership certificates to same-sex couples this month, allowing them to access some rights and welfare programmes that opposite-sex couples are eligible for, such as visiting their partner in the hospital and living in public housing together. Tokyo’s partnership system gives local governments in 60% of the country’s population partnership rights, but it doesn’t give them the same rights as married heterosexual couples. Partnership certificates are not legally binding and do not grant same-sex couples joint custody or spousal tax deductions.

Despite growing support for LGBTQ rights, especially among younger Japanese, many of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s conservative lawmakers have resisted LGBTQ equality efforts. Despite activist pressure ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, which featured a record number of LGBTQ athletes, the government failed to pass an LGBTQ discrimination law in 2021.

Alexander Dmitrenko, co-chair and co-founder of Lawyers for LGBT & Allies Network, is disappointed in the Tokyo court’s “timidity to rule more unequivocally in favour of equality” but optimistic about future progress. He says the court’s ruling that lesbian and gay couples in Japan deserve equality is crucial.

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