Thirteen Japanese same-sex couples have marked Valentine’s Day with the filing historic lawsuits challenging the country’s ban on marriage equality.
The lawsuits, filed in Tokyo and other courts around the country by five lesbian and eight gay couples, argue that the law violates same-sex couples’ constitutional right to equality.
Japan’s constitution states “marriage shall be only with the mutual consent of both sexes,” which the government says does not include same-sex marriages. The couples and their lawyers disagree.
Ai Nakajima and Kristina Baumann (pictured) are one of the couples who are taking the government to court to obtain marriage rights.
The couple wed in Berlin last year, but after presenting their German marriage certificate to the Japanese registry, their application was denied.
“The marriage registry application where both applicants are women is unlawful,” an official rejection notice read.
Baumann, who comes from Germany, told the Japan Times she hopes the lawsuits help grow awareness and create greater inclusion of LGBTIQ people in broader Japanese society.
“I want the Japanese people to notice that many LGBTQ people are part of society,” she said.
“Many haven’t yet come out and many struggle in relationships considered illegal.”
Ten districts in Japan have set up “partnership” schemes in recent years in order to give limited recognition to same-sex couples, but the certificates the couples receive aren’t legally binding.
A poll conducted in January found nearly 80% of Japanese people aged 20 to 59 support legalising same-sex marriage.
Last month, Japan’s transgender community was dealt a blow when the country’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of a law requiring trans people to undergo sterilising surgery before they can affirm their gender on official documents.
Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong’s top court last month ruled two legal challenges of the country’s ban on same-sex marriage could proceed, in a first for the country.
Taiwan was widely expected to become the first in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage after a landmark court ruling in 2017.
But the reform’s progress was delayed last November after the country voted in a referendum to preserve the current definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, leading to uncertainty about how the government will respond to the binding court ruling.