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 country’s ban on same-sex marriage is not unconstitutional, marking a setback for LGBT rights activists in the only G7 country that does not allow people of the same sex to do so. marriage.

Three same-sex couples – two men and a female – have filed the lawsuit in the Osaka District Court, only the second to be heard on the case in Japan. In addition to rejecting their claim that the inability to marry is unconstitutional, the court overturned their demands for 1 million yen ($7,400) in compensation for each couple.

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

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“This is really disappointing,” said Gon Matsunaka, a gay community activist in Tokyo.

“After the Sapporo ruling, we were hoping for the same ruling or something better.”

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.

‘good chance’

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 home they may share – 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 a place together and obtain 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 said the issue needs to be looked at carefully, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has not revealed any plans to review the matter or propose legislation, although some senior LDP figures favor reform.

An upcoming case in Tokyo means that public debate on the issue will continue, particularly in the capital, where a local government poll late last year showed nearly 70% in favor of same-sex marriage.

Activists say legalizing same-sex marriage would have far-reaching social and economic implications, by making it easier for companies to attract and retain talented workers, and even help lure foreign companies into the world’s third-largest economy.

Speaking before the Osaka ruling, Masa Yanagisawa, Head of Principal Services at Goldman Sachs and a board member of the activist group Wedding for all Japan, said.

“International companies are revising their Asian strategy and LGBTQ inclusion is becoming a topic… International companies do not want to invest in a place that is not LGBTQ.”

(dollar = 134.8800 yen)

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

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