Ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, Sapporo High Court rules

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The Sapporo High Court on Thursday ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, with strong phrasing that is expected to pressure the government and lawmakers for action.

It is the first time a high court has handed down a ruling that said Japan’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

The high court judgment followed a similar ruling at the Tokyo District Court earlier on Thursday, which said that the ban on same-sex marriage is in a “state of unconstitutionality” due to the lack of legal protections for same-sex couples. The Tokyo court, however, stopped short of issuing a stronger “unconstitutional” verdict.

Sapporo High Court presiding Judge Kiyofumi Saito said allowing only heterosexual couples to marry lacks reasonable grounds, describing it as “discriminatory” and in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, which enshrines the right to equality.

He used wording similar to a May 2021 Sapporo District Court judgment, which also described the government’s failure to implement legal measures as “discriminatory.”

Saito also pointed out that same-sex couples who cannot get married face significant disadvantages in legal protection and benefits. The court, however, rejected plaintiffs’ claims for compensation.

The Sapporo ruling gave a boost to the plaintiffs and LGBTQ supporters, who burst out with joy in an online news conference broadcast live in Tokyo, with some of them tearing up upon hearing the news.

“I thought I was dreaming,” Takashi, one of the plaintiffs who wished to be referred to by a pseudonym in order to protect his privacy, said before his voice broke, unable to contain his tears. “I’m really glad I kept going.”

Ryosuke Kunimi, who also goes by a pseudonym for privacy reasons, said that it exceeded his expectations and added that he hopes that lawmakers will take action based on the judge’s decision.

As of Thursday, seven courts have issued verdicts over the constitutionality of the ban on same-sex marriages.

Three rulings, including the latest one by the Sapporo court, used the strongest phrase to describe the ban — that it is unconstitutional.

Three others, including the Tokyo ruling on Thursday, used a weaker phrase, describing the ban as being in a “state of unconstitutionality.”

Another handed down by the Osaka District Court declared the ban is constitutional.

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