A Japanese court has for the first time ruled that same-sex marriage should be allowed under the country’s constitution, a moral victory that does not have any immediate legal consequence but could bolster efforts for legalisation.
Sapporo District Court said sexuality, like race and gender, is not a matter of individual preference, so prohibiting same-sex couples from receiving benefits given to heterosexual couples cannot be justified.
“Legal benefits stemming from marriages should equally benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals, the court said, according to a summary of the ruling.
Judge Tomoko Takebe said in the ruling that not allowing same-sex marriages violates Article 14 of the Japanese constitution, which prohibits discrimination “because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin”.
The court was hearing a case brought by three same-sex couples who were seeking government compensation for the difficulties they had to suffer from not being able to legally marry. The court declined to financially compensate the plaintiffs.
The court’s ruling has no immediate legal effect and same-sex couples are still not allowed to marry, but activists say the ruling is a major victory that could influence similar court cases and help their efforts to push for parliamentary debate and changes to the law.
Chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters the government disagreed with Wednesday’s ruling. He said the government wants to achieve a society more tolerant to diversity, but did not say how it would respond to the ruling, except that it will watch pending court cases.
Outside the court, the plaintiffs’ lawyers and their supporters held up rainbow flags and a banner saying “a big first step toward equality”.
“I hope this ruling serves as a first step for Japan to change,” said one woman who only identified herself as Plaintiff No 5.
“We need to make clear that the parliament has left alone the unconstitutional situation by abandoning its legislative duties, and have them take action promptly,” they said in a statement.
Japan is the only country in the G7 industrialised nations where same-sex marriages are not legal, but it is not an outlier in Asia, where Taiwan is the only place where same-sex marriage is legal following legislation passed in 2019.
While support for LGBTQ people is rising in Japan, discrimination persists. In a society where pressure for conformity is strong, many LGBTQ people hide their sexuality, fearing prejudice at home, school or work.