A court in Tokyo has ruled that Japan’s lack of law to protect the rights of same-sex couples to marry and become families violates the constitution.
The ruling by the Tokyo District Court had been closely watched in a country still largely bound by traditional gender roles and family values.
The court, however, said the government’s lack of legislative action is not illegal and threw out plaintiffs’ compensation demands of one million yen (just over £6,000) each.
However, the ruling marked a partial victory for LGBTQ couples.
There is no rationality to justify the absence of legal protection for same-sex couples and “it is in a state of violation” of the Article 24 of the Japanese Constitution, the court said.
Same-sex couples should enjoy the same legal protection as heterosexual couples through marriage, it added.
The plaintiffs and their lawyers welcomed the ruling as “groundbreaking” and urged the government to promptly take steps to enact a law to mitigate the problem.
“I was glad that the ruling acknowledged we have a right to be families,” plaintiff Chizuka Oe told a news conference, adding that her partner of more than 20 years “is my invaluable family no matter what anyone says”.
Ms Oe said the fight continues until there is a real progress, vowing: “This is just the beginning.”
The court ruling was a third of five similar lawsuits filed in 2019 around the country and followed two divisive verdicts in Japan where its governing party has long supported traditional family values.
In March 2021, the Sapporo District Court in northern Japan found the country’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, but the Osaka District Court in June said that marriage under the 1947 charter is only for female-male unions and that the same-sex marriage ban is valid.
The plaintiffs in the Tokyo case argued that they had been illegally discriminated against by being deprived of the same economic and legal benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy through marriage.
Support for sexual diversity has grown slowly in Japan, but without legal protections, LGBTQ people often face discrimination at school, work and at home, causing many to hide their sexual identities.
Japan is also the only G7 country that bans same-sex marriage.