Another legal challenge unfolding in Hokkaido . . .
A former employee filed a lawsuit against the Hokkaido prefecture Wednesday, alleging damages caused by being denied spousal benefits for her same-sex partner. After her application for benefits was rejected, Kaoru Sasaki filed the suit, arguing that withholding benefits from same-sex couples violates the guarantee of equality under the Japanese Constitution. She is seeking 4.83 million yen (C$53,390) in damages from the prefecture.
Following historic Sapporo District Court ruling . . .
A landmark ruling by a Sapporo District Court in March laid the groundwork for potential recognition of same-sex marriages in Japan. Since 2015, beginning with Shibuya ward in Tokyo, roughly 102 Japanese municipalities and three prefectures have adopted a policy of issuing partnership certificates for same sex couples. But the certificates are not legally binding and have no effect on spousal benefits, immigration status, or other areas where federal law takes precedence. Sasaki had submitted her partnership certificate issued by the Sapporo municipal government when she applied for spousal benefits in July 2018 and April 2019 while still an employee of the prefecture.
Pressure building to change the law . . .
The Hokkaido case may further increase pressure on Tokyo to recognize marriage equality. Japan is the only G7 country that does not allow same-sex marriage, which has renewed criticism in recent years. Legal and social barriers for binational same-sex couples add a layer of difficulty for potential immigrants and skilled workers to relocate to Japan. As the nation gears up for the 2021 Olympics, the opportunity to showcase Japanese diversity and inclusivity looms large, and growing support for LGBTI equality in Japan and in the region may signal changes on the horizon at the federal level.