One legal battle ends, and another begins . . .
On Wednesday, a district court in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo ruled that it was unconstitutional for the Japanese government to ban same-sex marriage. The lawsuit against the government is the first case in Japan to consider marriage equality. The case revolved around the interpretation of individual rights in Article 14 and marriage rights in Article 24 of the Constitution. Judge Tomoko Takebe ruled that the government was in violation of Article 14, which preserves individuals’ right to equality, but claimed that Article 24 pertained only to heterosexual couples. The court rejected the demand for compensation, but one plaintiff’s lawyer stated their intention to appeal the ruling to bring greater attention to the issue.
Recent societal changes . . .
The ruling suggests that the laws surrounding same-sex marriage may soon change in other districts, as similar lawsuits in several other courts throughout the country are awaiting rulings. The Sapporo court’s decision may be a reflection of changing attitudes towards same-sex relationships in Japan. A 2019 poll by Dentsu revealed that nearly 80 per cent of respondents under 60 support same-sex marriage. However, the same poll indicated that over 50 per cent of lesbians and gay men are concerned about coming out to their family and friends. Currently, Taiwan and Australia are the only Asian societies to have legalized same-sex marriage.
Bans on same-sex marriage reduce Japan’s ability to attract labour . . .
The lack of legal support for same-sex marriage in Japan has affected its ability to attract and retain skilled workers. Japan suffers from a demographic deficit, and the government seems to acknowledge the need for immigration to support its aging population, having eased immigration rules in 2019. However, same-sex couples may encounter special difficulties in trying to obtain a spousal visa. While there are a number of potential work-arounds, challenges remain. In August 2019, the American Chamber of Commerce made a statement to this effect, noting that Japan would continue to lose out on skilled LGBT+ labour if it did not amend its laws. Domestic support and demographic pressures may eventually lead to changes at the federal level.
- The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan: Support the recruitment and retention of talent by instituting marriage equality in Japan
- The Japan Times: Japan court rules failure to recognize same-sex marriage unconstitutional
- The New York Times: Japan’s support for gay marriage is soaring. But can it become law?