1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Japan: Not recognizing same-sex marriage unconstitutional

March 17, 2021

More than a dozen same-sex couples had filed lawsuits in 2019, asking the government to recognize gay marriage. The verdict is being hailed as a step towards marriage equality.

Lawyers hold up a banner in support of gay marriage in Japan. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images )
The ruling is expected to influence other such cases being heard in Japan.Image: Noriaski Sasaki/AP PPhoto/picture alliance

A Japanese court ruled on Wednesday that not recognizing same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Many same sex couples had filed lawsuits in 2019, asking the government to recognize gay marriage.

The highly anticipated verdict is being hailed as a step towards marriage equality. 

 A venue of the same-sex marriage lawsuit is pictured at the Sapporo District Court. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images )
Japan is the only G7 nation to not recognize same sex marriage.Image: Noriaski Sasaki/AP PPhoto/picture alliance

After the rapid shift in stance in much of the world in the past decade, Japan is now the only G7 nation not to recognize same-sex marriage.

Municipalities around the country issue certificates for partnership, but still don't allow the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.

How did the case get to court?

Three same sex couples had asked the Japanese government to pay 1 million yen per person to them as acknowledgment of the pain they suffered by not being able to legally marry. The Sapporo District Court did not accept the demand for damages.

However, the recognition that not allowing them to marry was unconstitutional is being considered by rights groups as a precedent in the right direction. 

Similar cases are being heard in other courts, and this is expected to influence the outcome.

Plaintiffs hold a 'marriage for all' poster at the Sapporo Disctrict Court. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images )
Similar cases are being heard in courts across Japan. Image: Noriaski Sasaki/AP PPhoto/picture alliance

Why has Japan refused to allow same-sex marriages?

The Japanese government has argued that same sex marriage is "not foreseen" in the constitution or civil law. But legal experts say there is nothing prohibiting it, arguing that the clause is based on consent to wed.

The constitution states "marriage shall be only with the mutual consent of both sexes."

Experts say that Japan's stance on gay marriage made it less lucrative to attract talent as a business destination, compared to other developed countries. 

"All the other advanced countries have this, so Japan will lose out competitively. Then there's the fact that people can't be who they are. It becomes quite business critical," Masa Yanagisawa, head of Prime Services at Goldman Sachs Japan and a board member of the NGO Marriage for All Japan, told AFP. 

What is the current situation for same-sex couples in Japan?

Gay people in Japan still face some challenges even with the growing public support for their community.

Currently, same sex couples do not have any rights on their partner's assets, and also do not have any parental rights towards their partner's children. 

Municipalities have enacted partnership ordinances to make it easier for some same-sex couples to rent apartments, yet they are not legally binding.  

Many members of the LGBT+ community in Japan remain largely marginalized, which leads some gay people to hide their sexuality to avoid prejudice. 

Buddhist monk and gay

fb, tg/msh (AFP, Reuters)