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Japanese court rules same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional

Person holding rainbow poster Love Wins for same-sex marriage rights among people marching in the Tokyo Rainbow Pride (TRP) Parade 2016 in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan.
Person holding rainbow poster Love Wins for same-sex marriage rights among people marching in the Tokyo Rainbow Pride (TRP) Parade 2016 in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan.Photo: Shutterstock

A Japanese court has ruled that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. While the ruling is being celebrated, it doesn’t mean that marriages can start being performed immediately.

Four other court cases are working their way through the system and the decision by the Sapporo District Court is expected to influence the outcomes.

Related: How Japanese homophobia is distinctly different from American homophobia

The court ruled that sexual orientation, like race, is not a matter of individual preference and therefore denying same-sex couples the same benefits as straight couples is unconstitutional.

“Legal benefits stemming from marriages should equally benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals,” the court wrote in the ruling, saying the prohibition violates the constitutional ban “because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.”

The court denied the plaintiffs’ request for financial compensation of around $9,000.

Japan is the only G7 country to still ban same-sex marriage and has laws that actively harm couples. Same-sex couples cannot inherit their partner’s estate and have no parental rights to children. Marriages performed abroad are not recognized by the government, causing visa issues for binational couples and tourists.

“I hope this ruling serves as a first step for Japan to change,” one of the anonymous plaintiffs said after ruling was handed down.

Japan’s National Diet would have to pass a law to formally legalize marriage equality in the country.

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