News (World)

Japanese high court rules same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional

Japan, LGBTQ rights, civil unions, gay marriage
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Japan’s fitful march toward marriage equality took a giant leap on Thursday when a high court ruled the country’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

“Disallowing marriage to same-sex couples is a discrimination that lacks rationality,” the ruling said, while noting that “enacting same-sex marriage does not seem to cause disadvantages or harmful effects.”

Civil code rules limiting marriage to couples of the opposite sex, the high court in Sapporo ruled, are “unconstitutional” and “discriminatory.” Existing law, the justices wrote, should be revised or rewritten to include other types of unions in addition to those between a man and a woman.

The judiciary does not have the power to overturn existing civil marriage codes.

Marriage equality has divided the country’s court system in opposing rulings over several years, while Japan’s conservative government lags behind increasingly supportive public opinion. Seventy percent of the Japanese public supports marriage equality, but it’s opposed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Japan is the only one of the Group of Seven industrialized nations to not offer legal protections for same-sex unions.

“It was a long-awaited, delightful ruling which makes me cry,” plaintiff Eri Nakaya told Reuters after the verdict. “The ruling clearly stated that same-sex couples have the same right as others and deserve to live in this country, and reminded me it’s okay just to be me.”

Prime Minister Kishida’s conservative government reacted with caution.

“An introduction of same-sex marriage closely affects family values of the people,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters after the decision came down. He said the government would continue to track public opinion, parliamentary debate, and other pending court cases.

Later that day, a Tokyo district court tiptoed up to the same conclusion as the Sapporo court, ruling the absence of civil rules allowing for same-sex unions constituted “a state of unconstitutionality.”

Masakazu Yanagisawa, a board member for Marriage for All Japan and a senior executive at Goldman Sachs in Tokyo, said the Japanese government’s slow walk on marriage equality risked the country’s economic position.

“There is a growing risk that Japan will be left behind by international trends and excluded from being an option as a place to work,” said Yanagisawa. “We are at a critical juncture to see if Japan will become a society that accepts diversity.”

The Biden administration’s U.S. ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, praised the progress the country’s judiciary was making in moving Japan forward.

“A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step,” Emanuel posted to X after the Tokyo court’s ruling. “Glad to see the Tokyo court making one more step today towards #MarriageEquality in all of Japan. The Tokyo court joins the Sapporo, Nagoya, and Fukuoka courts in favor of a more inclusive Japan.”

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