Japanese Courts Find Laws Preventing Same Sex Marriage Unconstitutional

On March 14, two court decisions regarding marriage equality in Japan were handed down from both the Tokyo Regional Court and Sapporo High Court. In both cases, current Japanese laws preventing same sex marriage were found to be unconstitutional, but it is unclear what impact the rulings will have.

The decision before the Tokyo Regional Court was handed down in the morning. It found that among the potential violations of Japan’s constitution raised by plaintiffs, only one placed current laws governing marriage in an “unconstitutional state”. In the afternoon, the Sapporo High Court rendered its decision. It found that current laws preventing same sex marriage violated both article 24 (guaranteeing equality between partners in a marriage) and article 14 (guaranteeing equality under the law) of Japan’s constitution. (It should be noted that while Article 24 states that marriage is “only to be entered into on agreement between both sexes”, the court found that this should be understood to apply to same sex couples as well.)

If either decision is allowed to stand, it would mean language in the law preventing same sex couples from marrying would need to be rewritten, or potentially be rendered null and void even without legislative action.

In both cases, plaintiffs requested damages due to legislative inaction, but this was rejected by both courts.

Both court decisions and other court documents have been made available by Call4, a Japanese legal advocacy website, at the following URL (Japanese/English, documents mostly in Japanese): https://www.call4.jp/

UPDATE: According to a statement released on March 25 by Marriage For All Japan’s Hokkaido legal team, the plaintiffs plan to appeal the Sapporo decision to the Japanese Supreme Court in order to obtain clarification on the decision as well as try to force the government to take action. This follows Prime Minister Kishita on the 15th stating that the government’s position remains unchanged on disallowing same-sex marriage. The statement can be found at the site linked above.