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Japan’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, high court says


A participant holds up a placard as members of the LGBTQ community and supporters hand out information packets with chocolate to commuters arriving during the rush hour at Shinagawa Station to raise awareness on marriage equality in Japan on Valentine’s Day in Tokyo on February 14, 2024.

Richard A. Brooks | Afp | Getty Images

A high court in Japan on Thursday said the country’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, ruling on a matter that has divided lower levels of the judiciary and put the conservative government at odds with shifting public opinion.

Japan is the only member of the Group of Seven industrialized nations that doesn’t offer legal protection for same-sex unions. Rights groups say the omission is discriminatory and hurts its appeal as a global business center.

Although polls show 70% public support for same-sex unions, they are opposed by the Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Japanese civil code rules that limit marriage to those of the opposite sex are “unconstitutional” and “discriminatory”, the high court in the northern city of Sapporo said in its ruling, but dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim for damages from the government.

“Enacting same-sex marriage does not seem to cause disadvantages or harmful effects,” the court said.

“It was a long-awaited, delightful ruling which makes me cry,” plaintiff Eri Nakaya told reporters after the verdict.

The plaintiffs are considering appealing to the Supreme Court to clarify the unconstitutionality of existing law, lawyer Fumiyasu Tsunamori told a news briefing.

The government will eye other upcoming court decisions, its top spokesperson, Yoshimasa Hayashi, told a briefing.

Masakazu Yanagisawa, a senior executive at Goldman Sachs in Tokyo who sits on the board of rights group Marriage for All Japan, said the country risked being left behind in the hunt for global talent if it did not revise its civil code.

“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 debate on the same-sex ban has split lower courts, with one district court holding the ban to be constitutional but others saying it is unconstitutional, in varying degrees.

Earlier on Thursday, a Tokyo district court ruling described Japan’s lack of same-sex marriage status as “a state of unconstitutionality.”

U.S. ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel praised that ruling.

“A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. Glad to see the Tokyo court making one more step today towards marriage equality in all of Japan,” he posted on social media platform X.


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