A Sapporo District Court ruled Wednesday that a government ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The ruling marks the first time that same-sex rights have been recognized legally in Japan.
The AP reports that a judge in the ruling, Tomoko Takebe, said that the ban violates Article 14 of the country’s constitution, which prohibits discrimination of the basis of race, sex, religion, and social status. As with these other categories, the court ruled that sexual orientation is not a choice and that “Legal benefits stemming from marriages should equally benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals.”
Japan remains the only G7 country not to recognize same-sex marriage, and same-sex rights remain limited. Same-sex couples are unable to inherit property from their partners and lack parental rights. Although Wednesday’s ruling does not remedy the current lack of legal security, it has set a precedent for other related lawsuits pending in the judicial system; the Sapporo lawsuit was one in a set filed in districts across the country in 2019.
Despite ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor with regards to the ban’s unconstitutionality, the court denied their request for compensation, siding with the government in its interpretation of Article 24, which states “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.”
However, by ruling in favor of the plaintiffs with regards to Article 14, the court delivered them — and Japan’s LGBTQ+ — a victory.
“I’m really happy. Until the ruling was announced, we didn’t know this was what we’d get and I’m just overjoyed,” Gon Matsunaka, director of the group Marriage for All Japan, told the Japan Times. “Its value is absolutely measureless.”