Japanese court rules ban on same-sex marriage is not unconstitutional

Prosecutors hold each other’s hands after a district court ruled the legality of same-sex marriage outside the Sapporo District Court in Sapporo, Hokkaido, northern Japan on March 17, 2021, in this photo taken by Kyodo.

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TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese court ruled on Monday that the ban on same-sex marriage is not unconstitutional, marking a setback for LGBT rights activists in the only G7 country that does not allow same-sex people to do so. marriage.

The ruling dashes activists’ hopes of increasing pressure on the central government to address the issue after a court in the city of Sapporo decided in March 2021 in favor of a claim that disallowing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Three same-sex couples – two men and a female – have filed the lawsuit in a district court in Osaka, only the second to be heard on the case in Japan.

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In addition to rejecting their claim that the inability to marry is unconstitutional, the court overturned their demand to pay 1 million yen ($7,400) in compensation to each couple.

“I actually wonder if the legal system in this country really works,” said Prosecutor Machi Sakata, who married her American partner in the United States. The two are expecting a baby in August.

“I think there is a possibility that this ruling will really judge us,” Sakata said.

The Japanese constitution defines marriage as based on the “mutual consent of the sexes”. But the introduction of partnership rights for same-sex couples in Tokyo last week, along with increased support in opinion polls, raised the hopes of activists and lawyers in the Osaka case.

The Osaka Court said that marriage was defined as between the sexes only and that there was not enough discussion about same-sex marriage in Japanese society.

“We emphasized in this case that we want same-sex couples to have access to the same things as regular couples,” said attorney Akiyoshi Miwa, adding that they would appeal.

Economic repercussions

Japanese law is relatively liberal in some areas by Asian standards, but across the continent only Taiwan has legalized same-sex marriage.

Under current rules in Japan, same-sex couples are not allowed to marry legally, they cannot inherit each other’s assets – such as a house they may have shared – and they also do not have parental rights over each other’s children.

Although partnership certificates issued by some municipalities help same-sex couples rent property together and have hospital visit rights, they do not give them the full legal rights that heterosexual couples have.

Last week, the Tokyo prefectural government passed a bill to recognize same-sex partnership agreements, meaning that local governments that cover more than half of Japan’s population now offer such recognition.

While Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said the issue needs careful consideration, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party has not revealed any plans to review the matter or propose legislation, although some senior party members favor reform.

An upcoming issue in Tokyo will lead to continued public debate on the issue, particularly in the capital, where a poll conducted by the local government late last year showed that about 70% of people were in favor of same-sex marriage.

Activists say legalizing same-sex marriage will have far-reaching social and economic implications, and help attract foreign companies into the world’s third-largest economy.

“International companies are revising their Asian strategy, and LGBTQ inclusivity has become a topic,” Masa Yanagisawa, Head of Principal Services at Goldman Sachs and board member of the activist group Marriage for All Japan, said in her speech before the ruling.

“International companies do not want to invest in a site that is not LGBT friendly.”

(dollar = 134.8800 yen)

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Additional reporting by Rikako Maruyama. Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Bradley Perrett

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