Japan's same-sex marriage ban legal: Court

·3-min read

Japan's ban on same-sex marriage does not violate the constitution, a court has ruled, rejecting demands for compensation by three couples who said their right to free union and equality has been violated.

The Osaka District Court ruling is the second decision on the issue, and disagrees with a ruling last year by a Sapporo court that found the ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional.

It underscores how divisive the issue remains in Japan, the only member of the Group of Seven major industrialised nations that does not recognise same-sex unions.

In its ruling, the Osaka court rejected the plaintiffs' demand for a million yen ($A10,700) in damages per couple for discrimination.

The plaintiffs - two male couples and one female couple - were among 14 same-sex pairs who filed lawsuits against the government in five major cities - Sapporo, Tokyo, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Osaka - in 2019 for violating rights to free union and equality.

They argued they have been discriminated against by being deprived of the same economic and legal benefits heterosexual couples enjoy through marriage.

Support for sexual diversity has grown slowly in Japan, but legal protections are still lacking for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

LGBTQI people often face discrimination at school, work and home, causing many to hide their sexual identity.

Rights groups had pushed for passage of an equality act ahead of last summer's Tokyo Olympics, when international attention was focused on Japan, but the bill was quashed by the conservative government.

The Osaka court on Monday said freedom of marriage in the 1947 constitution only means male-female unions and does not include those of the same sex, and therefore banning same-sex marriages is not unconstitutional.

Judge Fumi Doi said marriage for heterosexual couples is a system established by society to protect a relationship between men and women who bear and raise children, and that ways to protect same-sex relationships are still undergoing public debate.

The court, however, urged the parliament to seek methods to better protect same-sex relationships, including options to legalise same-sex union.

Monday's ruling was a setback for activists who were hoping to further pressure the government after the ruling by the Sapporo district court in March 2021.

The plaintiffs and their lawyers called Monday's ruling unacceptable and said they would appeal.

Akiyoshi Tanaka, a plaintiff, said at a news conference he hoped legal action would obtain backing from the judicial process for parliament to take action, but "the court stayed away from making a decision".

He said he will keep fighting.

"We don't have time to feel discouraged," he said.

Public opinion in Japan favours legalizing same-sex marriage.

Under current rules in Japan, same-sex couples cannot inherit each other's property, house or other shared assets, and have no parental rights over each other's children.

They are often barred from renting apartments together, and from hospital visits and other services available to married couples.

More than 200 municipalities across Japan, or 12 per cent of the total, have begun issuing non-legally binding partnership certificates to same-sex couples since Tokyo's Shibuya district became the first to do so in 2015.

The Tokyo metropolitan government recently adopted a plan to accept registrations starting in October from couples seeking certificates of their partnerships.

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