TOKYO — A Japanese court on Wednesday ruled that the country’s failure to recognize same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, a landmark decision that could be an important step toward legalizing the unions across the nation.
The ruling, handed down by a district court in the northern city of Sapporo, came in a civil suit against the Japanese government by three same-sex couples. The lack of recognition of their unions, they said, had unfairly cut them off from services and benefits accorded to married couples, and they sought damages of around $9,000 per person.
The couples argued that the government’s failure to recognize same-sex unions violated the constitutional guarantee of equality under the law and the prohibition against discrimination regardless of sex.
The court agreed, writing in its decision that laws or regulations that deprived gay couples of the legal benefits of marriage constituted “discriminatory treatment without a rational basis.”
almost 80 percent of respondents 60 and under said they supported the unions.
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, however, 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.”