Will Japan Be the Second Country in Asia to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage? That is the question members of the LGBTQ+ community have been asking themselves since a groundbreaking in Sapporo deemed that the government was violating Article 14 of the Constitution. The Sapporo District Court reached this decision despite Article 24 stating that “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes” because Article 14 stipulates that everyone has rights to equality. As such, the Sapporo District Court concluded that not allowing same-sex couples to marry was unconstitutional.
Change had slowly been happening in the country.
As of March 2021, 75 municipalities and three prefectures issue same-sex partnership certificates, the first of which was introduced by Shibuya Ward in Tokyo. Obtaining one of these certificates is not the same as getting married, and there is limited mutual recognition between prefectures and municipalities, meaning that a specific certificate is only useful in the place that it was obtained. Additionally, the things a certificate grants varies depending on the place it was issued. Some common uses of the certificates include civil matters like hospital visits and property management.
With each new municipality and prefecture issuing same-sex partnership certificates, the feeling was that change could be coming soon; and then, the Sapporo District Court issues their landmark ruling.
However, despite the court’s decision, there is still an uphill battle since any actual change rests in the hands of the Japanese parliament, who could take a longer time to address the issue.
The major problem is that, while polls show that a vast majority of Japanese under the age of 60 support same-sex marriage, the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) has long been against it, even stating in a 2016 pamphlet that same-sex marriage went against their policies. some of the party’s members going as far as using irrational arguments like when assemblyman Masateru Shiraishi stated that giving legal protections to same-sex couples would result in the end of Adachi Ward because its population would decline even further, or when lawmaker Mio Sugita wrote that, since same-sex couples had no kids, they were unproductive.
With the LDP having such a clear stance against same-sex marriage, the road to legal recognition can be very difficult since the LDP is the ruling party in Japan. Even with courts and the general public supporting same-sex marriage, the LDP can steer future polices away from change. Adding the slow process with which Japanese bureaucracy operates and the low voter turnout, and same-sex marriage could be something Japan does not see in its near future.
There’s still hope, though. Despite Japan being the only country in the Group of Seven that does not provide legal protections for sexual minorities and the LDP’s stance, social pressure has been increasing; and the Sapporo District Court’s ruling could signal that institutions, groups like Equality Act Japan, and individuals will continue to bring the matter up and challenge the LDP.
It is certainly time for Japan to recognize same-sex marriage and join Taiwan, the only country in Asia where same-sex marriage is legal.