In response to today’s Fukuoka District Court ruling that upheld the Japanese government ban on same-sex marriage, Amnesty International Japan’s Campaigns Manager Shinya Takeda said:
“While this ruling is not the victory the LGBTI community in Japan was hoping for, it does nevertheless show that progress is being made on LGBTI rights and momentum for change is building.
“Although the court today upheld the government’s discriminatory ban on same-sex marriage, it also made clear that Japan’s legal system needs to change in a way that better respects the human rights of same-sex couples. Ultimately, that must mean providing a legal framework that enables same-sex couples to have the same rights as heterosexual couples.
“Much more needs to be done to combat the discrimination faced by LGBTI people in Japanese society. Without concrete national legislation in place, local courts have no power to recognize same-sex marriage.
“The Japanese government is acting in a discriminatory and unconstitutional manner by not allowing same-sex couples to marry, and this ruling is the latest signal that it must change course on LGBTI rights.”
Ahead of today’s ruling at Fukuoka District Court, three same-sex couples from Kumamoto and Fukuoka had argued that the current interpretation of the Japanese Civil Code, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, violates their constitutional rights to equality and freedom of marriage.
The court ruled that Japan’s ban on same-sex marriage was not unconstitutional and dismissed damages sought by the three couples. However, the court also recommended that Japan’s legislature make changes to the legal system that better reflect the changing dynamics of Japanese society, with particular regard to the rights of same-sex couples.
Today’s ruling mirrors the November 2022 ruling by Tokyo District Court, which reasoned that Japan’s ban on same-sex marriage was not unconstitutional but that “the situation … was contrary to Article 24(2) of the Constitution”.
It is the latest in a series of similar court rulings in recent years, with varying results.
In 2019, thirteen same-sex couples filed lawsuits in various district courts across Japan seeking legal recognition of their marriages. The lawsuits faced legal challenges, with some courts dismissing the cases based on the interpretation of the Civil Code and the absence of specific laws addressing same-sex marriage.
In March 2021, Sapporo District Court ruled that the denial of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, marking the first victory for same-sex marriage in a Japanese court.
In June 2022, Osaka District Court rejected the claims of three same-sex couples – two male, one female – who argued that Japan’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The court ruled that Article 14, which provides for “equality before the law”, had not been violated.
In May 2023, Nagoya District Court became the country’s second, after Sapporo, to rule that the lack of legal recognition of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
Public opinion on same-sex marriage has been shifting positively in Japan, with polls indicating growing acceptance and support for equal marriage rights. In February 2023, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida fired his executive secretary, Masayoshi Arai, who made disparaging remarks about LGBTI people.
Japan has not yet introduced national legislation to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. On 1 November 2022, the Tokyo metropolitan government started issuing same-sex partnership certificates which fall short of full marriage rights including the right of inheritance.
A bill aimed at promoting understanding of the LGBTI community has been debated in the Diet session this year. However, the debate has been complicated by the fact that there are three different bills on the same subject from different parties.
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.