It still feels like Japan is a long way off from passing national marriage equality legislation. At the local level, however, equality has progressed rapidly. That’s leading some LGBTQ people to strengthen their calls for an end to the ban on same-sex marriage.
Local progress continues
In the absence of a national right to marry, many prefectural, ward, and city governments in Japan have instituted partnership systems. Like civil unions in the United States prior to marriage equality, these systems grant some of the same legal protections as marriage, such as renting or owning property together and making medical decisions on a partner’s behalf.
However, it’s important to note that such systems aren’t a substitute for marriage equality. They don’t cover critical rights such as inheritance. And they have little power when it comes to preventing active discrimination. Indeed, LGBTQ people in Japan have cited cases where hospitals, banks, realtors, and others have denied them rights that were supposedly protected by their union.
Still, they represent progress in the face of a national government that is indifferent, if not overtly hostile, to LGBTQ people. And they’re proliferating rapidly.
The non-profit group Nijiiro Diversity, in conjunction with the Tokyo Shibuya City Office, maintains a running tally of partnership systems throughout Japan. And by their count, the country’s 328 partnership systems now cover 70.9% of Japan’s population.
When I wrote about Tokyo’s plans to institute its own partnership system in 2021, these systems covered only 41.1% of Japan’s populace. They are now well on the way to covering the full citizenry.
Nijiiro Diversity’s report says that 5,171 couples have registered with the system nationwide. That’s a huge increase from 2022, when only 3,168 couples had registered, and likely reflects the passage of Tokyo’s system last year.
An elusive national solution
With coverage rapidly approaching 100% of the nation’s populace, the case for opposing marriage equality at the national level seems to get weaker and weaker. The group Marriage For All Japan, which champions an end to the national ban on same-sex marriage, reacted to Nijiiro Diversity’s news with a tweet reading, “May the nation move quickly so that people can get married.”
LGBTQ couples also continue to force the issue in Japan’s courts. They’ve achieved at least several partial victories. Earlier this month, in a suit brought by three couples, a Fukuoka court ruled that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage places it in a “constitutionally illegal state”.
A Tokyo court ruled similarly to the Fukuoka court. Meanwhile, courts in Sapporo and Nagoya flatly declared the ban illegal per Article 24 of Japan’s Constitution. Article 24 protects the right to marry as a free decision of both parties and says that any laws regarding marriage must respect “the dignity of the individual”.
The lawsuit findings don’t mean same-sex marriage automatically becomes the law of the land. It’s still up to the national Diet to pass legislation to make that happen. One legal expert said that the findings send a “message” and that, if such lawsuits continue, the government could find itself paying out large damage settlements to plaintiffs.
What to read next
「パートナーシップ制度」人口カバー率が70％超に。LGBTQ当事者から「国も早く結婚を認めて」の声. Huffington Post JP
同性婚認められていないのは「違憲状態」 福岡地裁. NHK News