Women holding hands

Japan: Groundbreaking same-sex marriage rulings a long-awaited victory for LGBTI rights

In response to today’s Sapporo High Court and Tokyo District Court rulings that highlighted the Japanese government’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, Amnesty International’s East Asia Researcher Boram Jang said:

“The court decisions today mark a significant step towards achieving marriage equality in Japan. The ruling in Sapporo, the first High Court decision on same-sex marriage in the country, emphatically shows the trend towards acceptance of same-sex marriage in Japan.

“By recognizing that the government’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, these rulings make clear that such discrimination has no place in Japanese society.

“The Japanese government now needs to be proactive in moving towards the legalisation of same-sex marriage so that couples can fully enjoy the same marriage rights as their heterosexual counterparts.   

“The law passed by the government last year to ‘promote understanding’ of LGBTI people is not enough. There need to be concrete, legal measures in place to protect same-sex couples and the LGBTI community in Japan from all forms of discrimination.”


On 14 March 2024, the Tokyo District Court and Sapporo High Court separately made historic decisions on two same-sex marriage cases.

The Tokyo District Court first ruled that the current legal framework, which does not recognize same-sex marriage, cannot be reasonably justified in the light of the dignity of the individual and the fundamental equality of the sexes, and should be considered a violation of Article 24(2) of the Constitution.

Then, in Japan’s first High Court decision on same-sex marriage, Sapporo’s High Court ruled that the provisions of the Civil Code and the Family Register Act that do not recognize same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, as they violate Article 24(1) and (2) and Article 14 (1) of the Constitution.

The Sapporo ruling is the first time the judiciary has recognized that the current law prohibiting same-sex marriage violates all three clauses – Article 24(1) and (2) and Article 14(1) of the Constitution.

These are the latest in a series of similar court rulings in recent years, with varying results.

In March 2021, Sapporo District Court ruled in favour of a couple who claimed that the government’s refusal to legally recognise same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, while Nagoya District Court made a similar ruling in May 2023.

In June 2023, while the Fukuoka District Court recognized the failings of Japan’s legal system and suggested that the legislative system should respect the rights of same-sex couples. The Court still upheld the government ban on same-sex marriage. The Tokyo District Court reached a similar verdict in November 2022.

In June 2022, Osaka District Court rejected the arguments of three same-sex couples – two male, one female – who argued that Japan’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

In a separate move, Tokyo’s metropolitan government issued special same-sex partnership certificates from November 2022. However, these certificates do not completely mirror the legal benefits of marriage, such as automatic inheritance.

In June 2023, the Japanese government passed a law which calls to ‘promote understanding’ of LGBTI people. The bill has been widely criticized by rights groups due to its failure to address the protection of LGBTI rights from discrimination in a definitive manner.