LGBT Couples Sue for the Right to Marry in Japan

Last fall, Ai Nakajima and her partner, Kristina Baumann, finally tied the knot in Germany. However, in Japan, where they live, the two share the same fate of all same-sex couples in a committed relationship – the denial of being legally and formally married. In fact, they submitted marriage registration documents to their local Yokohama ward office in January, only to get their papers sent back with an official rejection notice, stating, “The marriage registry application where both applicants are women is unlawful.”

Nakajima and Baumann were two of the thirteen Japanese residences who filed lawsuits nationwide against the government on Valentine’s day, demanding that same-sex marriage be legalized. The group of LGBT individuals claims that the denial of marriage rights is unconstitutional: Nothing in their constitution explicitly prohibits same-sex marriage, but the Japanese government has interpreted it to only permit heterosexual marriage. 

Yoshie Yokoyama, one of the group’s lawyers, stated, "The constitution gives you the right to pursue happiness and equality before the law. Not recognizing same-sex marriage violates this."

The participants are seeking damages of one million yen per person for being denied marriage rights. 

Image Courtesy: Time

Baumann, who is originally from Germany, a country with far more progressive rights for LGBT couples, hopes the lawsuit will increase awareness and inclusivity of the community within Japanese society. “I want the Japanese people to notice that many LGBTQ people are part of society. Many haven’t yet come out and many struggle in relationships considered illegal,” she said. “Of course, if we can get married legally someday, that would be super. But first, the society needs to change.”

Luckily, Nakajima and Baumann haven’t struggled to gain social acceptance.

Ritsumeikan University’s Ninomiya states that the current law deprives LGBT couples of inheritance rights, limits access to the nation’s social security programs and limits access to their partner during a health emergency. Other benefits that heterosexual couples have that LGBT couples are deprived of are tax deductions for dependent family members, sharing a health insurance program, jointly buying a house or taking out loans and spousal visas. While a handful of places in Japan give out same-sex partnership certificates, they don’t guarantee those rights on equal terms as a marriage license. 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has argued that legalizing same-sex marriage is “an issue that affects the foundation of how families should be in Japan, which requires an extremely careful examination.” In fact, Abe’s government has restarted moral education classes to teach children about the importance of traditional family values and doing good deeds. 

But Ai Nakajima, one of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, is hopeful that this could change, and her community agrees with her. While politicians may be older and more hesitant, she stated, “among younger people there is an overwhelming support for gay marriage.”

“Marriage equality is already a global trend, and this affects Japan as well," law professor Ken Suzuki, who helped organize the lawsuits, stated. "The government will not be able to ignore the trend of the times. I think that the next country in Asia to achieve marriage equality will be Japan."

Image Courtesy: TEXAN IN TOKYO