TOKYO — A Japanese court ruled on Monday that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage was not unconstitutional, denying claims for compensation from three couples who said their rights to freedom of association and equality had been violated.
The Osaka District Court ruling is the second ruling on the issue and contradicts a ruling by a Sapporo court last year that found the ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional. It underscores how divisive the issue remains in Japan, the only member of the Big Seven group not to recognize same-sex partnerships.
In its ruling, the Osaka court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim for damages of 1 million yen (US$7,400) per couple for discrimination.
The plaintiffs – two male couples and one female couple – were among 14 same-sex couples who filed lawsuits against the government in 2019 in five major cities – Sapporo, Tokyo, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Osaka – for violating the right to freedom of association and equality.
They argued that they had been unlawfully discriminated against by being denied the same economic and legal benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy through marriage.
Support for sexual diversity has slowly grown in Japan, but legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are still lacking. LGBTQ people often face discrimination at school, work and at home, leading many to hide their sexual identity.
Rights groups had been pushing for the passage of an equality law ahead of the Tokyo Olympics last summer, when international attention was focused on Japan, but the bill was overturned by the ruling Conservative party.
The Osaka court said Monday that the freedom of marriage in the 1947 constitution means only male-female unions and does not include same-sex marriages, and therefore the ban on same-sex marriages is not unconstitutional.
Judge Fumi Doi said marriage for heterosexual couples is a system created by society to protect a relationship between men and women who give birth and raise children and that ways to protect same-sex relationships are still a matter of public debate .
However, the court asked Parliament to explore methods to better protect same-sex relationships, including options to legalize same-sex marriages.
Monday’s ruling was a setback for activists hoping to further pressure the government after the Sapporo District Court ruling in March 2021.
Plaintiffs and their attorneys called Monday’s verdict unacceptable and said they would appeal.
Akiyoshi Tanaka, a plaintiff, said at a press conference that they had taken legal action to obtain court case support for Parliament, but “the court refrained from making a decision.”
He said he will keep fighting. “We don’t have time to feel discouraged,” he added.
Public opinion in Japan is currently in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Under current regulations in Japan, same-sex couples cannot inherit each other’s property, house or other joint assets, and have no parental rights over each other’s children. They are often barred from renting apartments together, receiving hospital visits and other services available to married couples.
More than 200 municipalities across Japan, or 12% of the total, have started issuing non-legally binding civil partnership certificates for same-sex couples since Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward first did so in 2015.
The Tokyo metropolitan government recently passed a plan to start accepting registrations from sexual minority couples requesting certificates of their partnerships from October.
However, this is not the same as a marriage license and does not provide equivalent legal protection.
Taiwan is the only Asian country or territory that has legalized same-sex marriage.