A Japanese court ruled Monday that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage does not violate the constitution, and rejected demands for compensation by three couples who said their right to free union and equality has been violated.
The Osaka District Court ruling is the second decision on the issue, and disagrees with a ruling last year by a Sapporo court that found the ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional. It underscores how divisive the issue remains in Japan, the only member of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations that does not recognize same-sex unions.
In its ruling, the Osaka court rejected the plaintiffs' demand for $7,400 in damages per couple for discrimination they face.
The plaintiffs — two male couples and one female couple — were among 14 same-sex couples who filed lawsuits against the government in five major cities — Sapporo, Tokyo, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Osaka — in 2019 for violating rights to free union and equality.
They argued that they have been illegally discriminated against by being deprived of the same economic and legal benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy through marriage.
Support for sexual diversity has grown slowly in Japan, but legal protections are still lacking for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. LGBTQ people often face discrimination at school, work and at home, causing many to hide their sexual identities.
Rights groups had pushed for passage of an equality act ahead of last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, when international attention was focused on Japan, but the bill was quashed by the conservative governing party.
The Osaka court on Monday said freedom of marriage in the 1947 constitution only means male-female unions and does not include those of the same sex, and therefore banning same-sex marriages is not unconstitutional.
Judge Fumi Doi said marriage for heterosexual couples is a system established by society to protect a relationship between men and women who bear and raise children, and that ways to protect same-sex relationships are still undergoing public debate.
The court, however, urged the parliament to seek methods to better protect same-sex relationships, including options to legalize same-sex marriage.
Monday’s ruling was a setback for activists who were hoping to further pressure the government after the ruling by the Sapporo district court in March 2021.
The plaintiffs and their lawyers called Monday's ruling unacceptable and said they would appeal.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.