The unions are not explicitly banned in Japan, but they are not recognized by the national government or most localities. The authorities have long argued that their position is supported by a provision in the country’s constitution that stipulates marriage can occur only with the consent of both sexes, a provision that was intended to stop Japan’s once common practice of arranged marriages.
The Japanese public remains divided in its attitudes on the subject. On one hand, the idea of same-sex marriage enjoys broad popular support, and even the country’s notoriously rigid business community has begun to embrace the notion of marriage equality, marketing products to gay couples and improving protections for employees.
On the individual level, many gay people are still hesitant to come out because of fears of discrimination from a society that is infamous for its often intense pressure to conform.
For the plaintiffs, Wednesday morning was an emotional roller coaster. The first headlines about the decision highlighted the court’s rejection of the compensation claims, provoking a moment of deep anxiety, one of the plaintiffs, Ryosuke Kunimi, told a news conference later in the day.
But when he saw the rest of the decision, he said, “I couldn’t stop my tears.”
Same-sex couples have long felt that “discrimination was natural, that there was nothing we could do about it,” he said, adding that the court decision clearly showed “that’s not true.”
The couples filed their suit in February 2019 as part of a broader national campaign to pressure the Japanese government into recognizing same-sex marriage. An additional 10 couples filed similar suits on the same day in three other courts across the country, and another couple later filed a similar suit in the city of Fukuoka. Rulings in those cases are expected later this year.
While the plaintiffs said they were pleased by Wednesday’s decision, they voiced caution about the road ahead. The ruling may face legal challenges. Ultimately, they will need Parliament to drop its longstanding opposition.
Takeharu Kato, one of the lawyers representing the couples, told reporters that he planned to appeal the court’s decision to deny compensation, adding that “we want to keep up pressure on the government.”