Japan court dismisses damages suit by same-sex couples

A Japanese court on Wednesday dismissed damages sought by same-sex couples who claimed the government's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

In the suit at the Tokyo District Court, eight plaintiffs, including same-sex couples, sought 1 million yen ($7,200) per person after submitting marriage registration applications but were rejected in accordance with civil law provisions.

It was the third ruling among similar lawsuits brought to district courts, with the previous two also rejecting demands for compensation but arriving at different outcomes over the constitutionality of the ban.

Although the Sapporo District Court said in March 2021 that the government's failure to recognize marriage was unconstitutional, the Osaka District Court ruled in June this year that banning same-sex marriage did not violate the Constitution.

The eight plaintiffs, who are in their 30s to 60s and from areas including Tokyo and Okinawa Prefecture, were among the same-sex couples who filed similar lawsuits in 2019 in Sapporo, Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka.

As civil law and family registration law provisions are based on marriage between a man and a woman, privileges resulting from matrimony, including inheritance rights, tax benefits and joint custody of children, are only granted to heterosexual couples.

In the lawsuit filed in February 2019, the plaintiffs argued that the ban on same-sex marriage violates the Constitution, which ensures the right to equality and guarantees the freedom to marry.

The state, meanwhile, said Article 24 of the Constitution that guarantees the freedom of marriage stipulates, "Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes."

Wednesday's ruling comes after some local authorities, including the Tokyo metropolitan government, began issuing certifications recognizing sexual minority couples, a move intended to help them apply for municipal housing, among other benefits.

But the certificates are not legally binding, with Japan remaining the only Group of Seven country that refuses to recognize same-sex marriage.

According to activist group Marriage For All Japan, 33 countries and regions around the world including Cuba, Australia and Ireland recognize same-sex marriage.

Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage in 2019, becoming the first in Asia to do so.

© Kyodo News