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Japan: Tokyo ruling on same-sex marriage a sign of hope

In response to today’s Tokyo District Court ruling that upheld the Japanese government ban on same-sex marriage, Amnesty International’s East Asia Researcher Boram Jang said:

“While the court today endorsed the government’s discriminatory ban on same-sex marriage, it also acknowledged that the absence of any legal system for same-sex couples to have families was an infringement of their human rights. This, at least, is cause for hope.

“This is not the ruling the LGBTI community wanted, but it is still an important step forward for same-sex couples and LGBTI rights in Japan. Nevertheless, much more needs to be done to combat the discrimination faced by LGBTI people in Japanese society. It is time for the government to change course on LGBTI rights.

“For years, a bill on promoting ‘understanding’ of LGBTI people and preventing discrimination continues to be delayed in Japan’s parliament. The government must put in place concrete measures that end the discrimination same-sex couples and other LGBTI people face in all walks of life.”

Background

The case was brought by four same-sex couples claiming that the provisions of the Civil Code and Family Registration Law that do not allow same-sex marriage are in violation of the Constitution. One of the plaintiffs died last year at the age of 61 without hearing the verdict.

Tokyo District Court today ruled that Japan’s ban on same-sex marriage was not unconstitutional and dismissed damages sought by same-sex couples who claimed law provisions violate the freedom of marriage guaranteed in the Constitution.

However, the court also reasoned that “the absence of a legal system is a serious threat and there are no reasonable grounds in light of the dignity of the individual” and that “the situation is unconstitutional, as it is contrary to Article 24(2) of the Constitution.”

The decision follows two similar cases in recent years which have had contrasting outcomes.

In June 2022, a ruling by the Osaka District Court upheld the government ban on same-sex marriage. Previously, in March 2021, the Sapporo District Court ruled that the government ban was unconstitutional.

District courts have no power to recognize same-sex marriage in their jurisdiction if there is no concrete legislation in place.

Japan has not yet introduced national legislation to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. On 1 November, the Tokyo metropolitan government started issuing same-sex partnership certificates which fall short of full marriage rights including the right of inheritance.

Amnesty International continues to call on the Japanese government to prioritize LGBTI rights and introduce national legislation that is comprehensive and specifically prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identities and intersex status.