Japan's same-sex marriage ban ruled unconstitutional

By Isaac M March 14, 2024

A high court in Japan has ruled that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

The current marriage law has previously been interpreted to restrict marriage to just between a man and a woman.

While the Sapporo High Court doesn’t have the power to overturn current laws, it called for urgent government action to correct the lack of legislation allowing same-sex unions.

The court, one of eight high courts in Tokyo, said that by not allowing same-sex couples to marry and enjoy the same benefits as heterosexual couples, the law violates their fundamental rights.

However, it is only a partial victory, as government offices may continue to refuse same-sex couples equal marriage status unless the existing law is revised or a new law is passed.

The ruling didn’t come in isolation, and a lower court passed a similar decision earlier this week – becoming the sixth district court to do so.

The five previous courts, across various cities, all said that Japan’s policy of denying same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, or nearly so.

The plaintiffs outside the court before the ruling in Tokyo. Pic: AP
The plaintiffs outside the court before the ruling in Tokyo. Pic: AP

One of Tokyo's eight high courts ruled the law was unconstitutional. Pic: AP
Pic: AP

However, where the Sapporo ruling differed, is that none of the previous decisions clearly deemed the Japanese government’s existing policy to reject same-sex couples as unconstitutional.

The country’s Supreme Court has recently separately ruled unconstitutional Japan’s law requiring compulsory sterilisation surgery for transgender people to officially change their gender.

Japan remains the only G7 nation that still doesn’t include same-sex couples in the right to get married and receive spousal benefits.

While support has grown among the Japanese public in recent years, the governing Liberal Democratic Party are known for their conservative family values and remains opposed to the campaign.

But the Tokyo ruling said that the right to marry, have a family, and enjoy the benefits that they bring, including tax deductions and social security benefits, were guaranteed for everyone except same-sex couples.

It argued they were deprived of those basic rights.

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The ruling followed similar decisions from lower courts. Pic: AP
Pic: AP

The ruling also acknowledged the right for anyone to live based on their sexuality and sexual identity and said that traditional family values and marriage were changing.

Despite the efforts of Japan’s conservative government to stonewall diversity, recent surveys show the majority of Japanese people support legalising same-sex marriage.

Tokyo enacted an LGBT+ awareness promotion law in June that critics said was watered down.


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