Japan’s ban on same-sex marriages does not violate the constitution, a District Court in Osaka (a large port city and commercial centre on the Japanese island of Honshu) has ruled.
The ruling dealt a blow to gay couples and rights activists, after another district court in Sapporo (City in Japan) ruled in 2021 that the failure to recognise same-sex marriage was “unconstitutional”.
However, opinion polls showed a majority of the general public is in favour of allowing same-sex marriage in Japan. Several areas, including Tokyo (Japan’s capital), have begun issuing partnership certificates, to help same-sex couples rent properties and gain hospital visitation rights.
About the Osaka Case
The Osaka case was filed by three same-sex couples, two of them male and one female. The case is the second of its kind to be heard in the country, where conservative attitudes towards homosexuality remain the same.
In addition to the Court rejecting their claim that being unable to marry was unconstitutional, the court also dismissed demands for 1 million Yen (Japanese currency) ($7,414; £6,058) in damages for each couple who argued that they suffered “unjust discrimination” for not being allowed to marry. But the Court also noted there wasn’t enough public debate about same-sex marriage and that “it may be possible to create a new system” recognising the interests of same-sex couples.
“From the perspective of individual dignity, it can be said that it is necessary to realise the benefits of same-sex couples being publicly recognised through official recognition. Public debate on what kind of system is appropriate for this has not been thoroughly carried out.”The Court’s comment after its ruling
Expanding the Court’s Decision
According to some public views, the Court’s decision is seen as a setback for gay rights activists and couples, who were hoping to wheel up pressure on the Japanese government to address same-sex unions. “This is awful, just awful,” an unidentified female plaintiff disclosed to reporters outside the courthouse in footage aired on some Japan public broadcaster networks after the ruling.
An LGBTQ activist, Gon Matsunaka, based in Tokyo expressed to reporters that the ruling is “disappointing”, pointing out that “After the Sapporo ruling, we were hoping for the same ruling or something even better”. However, a media report indicated that the plaintiffs are planning to appeal the decision.
Limitation of Japan’s Constitution to LGBTQ
Japan’s constitution, put in place after the end of World War Two, defines marriage as one of “mutual consent between both sexes”. Under the current rules, same-sex couples are not allowed to legally marry, can’t inherit their partner’s assets, and have no parental rights over their partner’s children. So far, Japan is the only country in the G7 group of developed nations that doesn’t allow people of the same sex to marry.
Though partnership certificates issued by some individual municipalities help same-sex couples to rent a place together and have hospital visitation rights, they do not grant them the full legal rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.
Activists also said conservative attitudes towards homosexuality mean many LGBTQ Japanese still do not dare to come out to their friends and family.