By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese court ruled on Monday that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage was not unconstitutional, dealing a setback to LGBTQ rights activists in the only Group of Seven country that does not allow gay marriages. people of the same sex to marry.
Three same-sex couples – two men, one woman – had filed the case in Osaka District Court, only the second to be heard on the matter in Japan. In addition to rejecting their claim that the inability to marry was unconstitutional, the court rejected their claims for 1 million yen ($7,400) in damages for each couple.
The decision dashed activists’ hopes of pressuring the government to address the issue after a Sapporo court in March 2021 ruled in favor of a claim that not allowing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
“It’s really disappointing,” said Gon Matsunaka, an LGBTQ activist from Tokyo.
“After the Sapporo decision, we were hoping for the same decision or something even better.”
The Japanese constitution defines marriage as being based on “the mutual consent of both sexes”. But the introduction of partnership rights for same-sex couples in Tokyo last week, along with growing support in polls, have raised the hopes of activists and lawyers for the Osaka case.
Japanese law is considered relatively liberal in some areas by Asian standards, but across the continent, only Taiwan has legalized same-sex marriage.
Under current rules in Japan, members of same-sex couples are not allowed to legally marry, cannot inherit each other’s property – such as the house they may have shared – and also have no parental rights over the other’s children.
Although partnership certificates issued by some municipalities help same-sex couples rent accommodation together and have hospital visitation rights, they do not give them all the legal rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.
Last week, the Tokyo prefectural government passed a bill recognizing same-sex partnership agreements, meaning local governments covering more than half of Japan’s population now offer such recognition.
While Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said the matter needs to be carefully considered, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has not revealed any plans to look into the issue or come up with legislation, although some senior figures of the LDP are in favor of reform.
An upcoming case in Tokyo means public debate on the issue will continue, particularly in the capital, where a local government opinion poll late last year found around 70% were in favor of same-sex marriage.
Activists say legalizing same-sex marriage would have far-reaching social and economic implications, making it easier for companies to attract and retain talented workers, and even help attract foreign companies to the region. third largest economy in the world.
“If Japan wants to regain a leading position in Asia, it has a very good opportunity right now,” said Masa Yanagisawa, head of prime services at Goldman Sachs and board member of activist group Marriage for all Japan, speaking before the judgment in Osaka.
“Global companies are revamping their Asian strategy and LGBTQ inclusivity is becoming a topic…Global companies don’t want to invest in a place that’s not LGBTQ friendly.”
($1 = 134.8800 yen)
(Additional reporting by Rikako Maruyama; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Bradley Perrett)