Gay Couples in Japan Launch Valentine’s Day Legal Bid to Marry

Thirteen same-gender couples from Japan have launched a legal bid against the country’s ban on same-sex marriage recognition, saying that it violates their constitutional right to equality.

Currently, Japan does not recognize same-gender marriage. There is no explicit ban, but Article 24 of Japan’s constitution provides that “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.”

As a result, Japanese governments operate as though same-gender marriage is simply not catered to and won’t process marriage paperwork from same-gender couples.

The couples in these Valentine’s Day suits argue that such an interpretation of the law runs contrary to Japan’s clearly-stated constitutional obligation to treat its citizens equally. Furthermore, while the government has used this wording as a de facto ban, there is nowhere in Japanese law specifically prohibiting recognition of same-gender marriages. It’s a different situation from the United States’ now-defunct national Defense of Marriage Act.

Ken Kozumi and Kenji Aiba are among the couples petitioning the courts to recognize their unions. Kozumi believes that not only is the right to marry important in a cultural way, it is also vital for the couples’ legal protection.

“Right now we are both in good health and able to work, but what if either of us has an accident or becomes ill? We are not allowed to be each other’s guarantors for medical treatment, or to be each other’s heir,” TIME quotes Kozumi as saying. “Progress in Japan has been too slow.”

Japan’s laws on LGBT rights are relatively progressive for the region. This is in part down to the fact that Japan only ever briefly criminalized homosexuality thanks to outside influences. Trans people have also found quiet acceptance, with Japan legalizing gender affirmation in 2002.

However, while there are not overt laws preventing same-gender relationships, Japan has been slow to give LGBT people enumerated protections.

Several principalities have given limited protections and recognition to same-gender couples and LGBT people as a group, but there is currently no national set of laws to protect this minority or recognize their relationships. Japan’s culture, which has been influenced by Western religious moorings as well as its own cultural legacy, places a great deal of emphasis on the heterosexual family unit, and its legal frameworks support that emphasis.

While Japan’s understanding and tolerance of LGBT people has evolved, with a majority of young Japanese people now saying they support gay couples, the country’s laws have not kept pace.

These lawsuits hope to change that, and they do it from multiple angles.

One couple—Ai Nakajima, 40, and German-born Tina Baumann, 31—got married in Germany after it was legalized in 2017. They then hoped to have that marriage recognized in Yokohama, where they now reside. However, that attempt was denied. They contest that this denial of marriage recognition is an unlawful burden that denies them full recognition under international law.

This is a tactic in the marriage equality fight that has been extremely successful. It forces courts to consider the right for partnership rights to “travel” across continents, so that they do not risk infringing the autonomy of other states. For example in Europe, while there is still not a bloc-wide recognition of marriage equality in name, this kind of approach has led to the bloc saying that EU governments must recognize same-gender marriages from in other states. As we know from other battles, it usually follows that once this recognition is enshrined the final barriers to state recognition eventually fall. 

The couples are suing with the hopes that they can take this case as far as they are able, perhaps all the way to Japan’s Supreme Court. That would usually take about five years, so this will not be a short fight. However, it certainly will be a high-profile, meaningful one that could see the couples going up against Japan’s national government. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Japanese government has taken a decidedly conservative line on LGBT rights.

Let’s hope love wins out and Japanese same-gender couples win the respect they deserve as citizens with equal recognition under Japan’s laws.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

29 comments

Daniel N
Daniel N2 months ago

tyfs

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Thomas M
Thomas M2 months ago

Thank you

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Ellie L
Past Member 2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Richard B
Richard B3 months ago

Thanks for posting

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Mia B
Past Member 4 months ago

I wish them well

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Maria P
Mia P4 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Past Member
Past Member 4 months ago

good luck to them.

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Leo C
Leo C4 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Emma L
Past Member 5 months ago

thank you for posting

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pam w
pam w5 months ago

Wishing them the very best of luck! They'll need it to fight the prejudice.

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