15 February 2019 05:34
The L.G.B.T. equal rights movement has lagged in Japan because people who are quietly not conforming to conventional notions of sexuality have been so marginalized that the issue has not been considered a human rights problem, experts say. Thirteen same-sex couples filed lawsuits across four districts in Japan Thursday alleging that the country's denial of same-sex marriage is a violation of the Constitution. During a news conference and march to the Tokyo District court, one of the plaintiffs, Kenji Aiba, explained that they are seeking ¥1 million in compensation and damages for emotional distress when government officials deny same-sex couples marriage licenses. Although some municipalities have passed partnership ordinances, the country as a whole has not recognized same-sex marriages as legally binding. The plaintiffs will challenge the country's lack of recognition as a violation of Article 24 of Japan's Constitution stating, "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." The government has interpreted the clause in civic and family law statutes to mean marriage between a man and a woman and the plaintiffs allege that the text does not explicitly define "both sexes" to mean opposite sexes.
Some plaintiffs are also challenging the long held custom to be a violation of Article 14 as well which stipulates that "All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin." Thirteen same-sex couples have filed a lawsuit in Japan arguing that the country's rejection of same-sex marriage violates their constitutional rights. While no laws on the books technically prohibit same-sex marriage, Japan's government has interpreted the constitution's marriage provisions to only permit marriage between heterosexual couples. Article 24 of the Japanese constitution states 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." Most municipal governments won't accept the paperwork needed to register marriages between same-sex couples, the Post reports. Marriage equality "is already a global trend, and this affects Japan as well," law professor Ken Suzuki, who helped organize the lawsuits, told the Post. Some municipalities across Japan have started to issue "partnership certificates" to gay and lesbian couples, the Times says.
"Whether to allow same-sex marriage is an issue that affects the foundation of how families should be in Japan, which requires an extremely careful examination," Abe said in a statement last year. But while the law and many lawmakers lag behind, public acceptance of sexual diversity and same-sex marriage has grown in Japan. According to an October, 2018 survey by the advertising agency Dentsu, more than 70 percent of the 6,229 respondents aged 20-59 said they support legalizing same-sex marriage. Japan's refusal to issue spouse visas to partners of same-sex couples legally married overseas is a growing problem, forcing them to temporarily live separately. In August, The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and its counterparts from Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, called for legalizing same sex marriages,, saying Japan' loses out because talented LGBTQ people choose elsewhere to work.
We would like to fight with all the sexual minorities in the country and their allies," said Kenji Aiba, a 40-year-old plaintiff, in front of the Tokyo District Court. The argument over marriage equality revolves around Article 24 of the Constitution which stipulates, "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." The plaintiffs' lawyers argue that the article's intent was to preserve gender equality and individual respect, and it does not preclude marriage between same sexes. It has also indicated that the term "husband and wife" used in civic law and family registration law refers to a man and a woman, and thus it cannot accept marriage applications from gay and lesbian couples. Although the government refuses to recognize same-sex marriage, more than 10 cities and other municipalities, including the Tokyo wards of Shibuya and Setagaya since 2015, provide "partnership certificates" to such couples in order to alleviate some of the difficulties which heterosexual couples do not face. Without marriage equality, same-sex couples cannot inherit property without a will, benefit from income tax deductions for spouses or have co-parental rights over their children.
"Our daily life is always surrounded by fear that something could happen," Baumann told Kyodo News after the couple had filed the lawsuit. Last year, a lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Mio Sugita, faced criticism for saying in a magazine article that the government should not support sexual-minority couples because they cannot bear offspring and thus are not "productive."