A Japanese court on Wednesday ruled the country’s constitution does not ban same-sex couples from legally marrying and ensures them a right to marry.
“Until the ruling was announced, we didn’t know this was what we’d get,” Gon Matsunaka, director of Marriage for All Japan and a representative of Pride House Tokyo, told Japan Today after the Sapporo District Court issued its ruling. “And I’m just overjoyed.”
Thomas Nagata, a gay Japanese American who is an Asian and Pacific Islander Queers United for Action DC board member, said the ruling “has given a voice and recognition to the queer community that is pressured to hide and stay silent.”
“There’s a Japanese saying that translates to ‘the nail that sticks out gets the hammer,’” Nagata told the Washington Blade. “Japanese culture pressures people to conform and stay quiet. Anything that is different will draw even more attention to it. Many queer people don’t come out because of being ‘othered.’”
Nagata said LGBTQ people have more of a voice in the U.S. and he was happy to see same-sex couples in Japan challenge the law and for the court to rule the marriage ban was unconstitutional.
“Yay, Japan!” the 27-year-old said. “By being recognized by the Japanese courts it makes the Japanese queer community visible.”
Under current Japanese law, same-sex couples are banned from legally marrying, which means partners cannot inherit each other’s assets upon death and have no parental rights over the other’s child.
Nikkei Asia reported three couples — two male and one female — in Hokkaido tried to register their marriages in 2019, but local officials turned them away.
The couples sued and the court on Wednesday ruled the government’s actions violated two provisions of the Japanese Constitution: Article 14 that ensures the right to equal treatment and Article 24, which does not expressly deny the right of marriage to same-sex couples.
Article 24 defines marriage in Japanese law as “based 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.”
The government’s attorney’s argued Article 24 applies only to heterosexual couples as implied by the term “husband and wife,” but the LGBTQ plaintiffs disagreed. They argued the law does not expressly prohibit same-sex couples from legally marrying.
The Sapporo court sided with the plaintiffs and found the government’s failure to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples is “unconstitutional” and a violation of their equal right to marry.
Taiwan in 2019 set a precedent for similar decisions by becoming the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.
Similarly, the Taiwanese Constitutional Court ruled in 2017 the country’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional and gave lawmakers two years to legalize marriage equality.
“Today, we have a chance to make history and show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted following passage of marriage equality legislation.
Back in Japan, the Sapporo ruling paves the way for similar legislation, but it is just the first step in what is still a long process of change.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said during a press conference the government would “carefully watch” the outcomes of similar cases still working their way through the courts, according to Japan Today.
“There are more lawsuits, similar to those in Sapporo, that have come up in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka,” Nagata told the Blade.
Yet he remains hopeful for Japan’s LGBTQ community and what this ruling means for its future.