Japanese LGBTQ couples sue gov’t on marriage equality
A group of Japanese LGBTQ couples are taking their government to court to recognize same-sex marriage in Japan this Valentine’s Day.
Thirteen Japanese lesbian and gay couples have filed simultaneous lawsuits, the first of its kind, claiming that the Japanese government’s non-recognition of marriage equality is unconstitutional.
One of the plaintiffs is the lesbian couple Ai Nakajima and Kristina Baumann, who got married in Germany in 2018.
Because Baumann’s residency in Japan is a student visa, she told Kyodo News that: “Our daily life is always surrounded by fear that something could happen.”
Japanese LGBTQ couples want equal rights
The couples– their ages ranging from their 20s to their 50s– filed the suits in district courts in Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo, and Tokyo.
All of them are demanding a million yen each in compensation, plus holdback worth five percent of the damages sought until the payment is complete and funds to cover litigation costs.
A plaintiff, 40-year-old Kenji Aiba from Saitama Prefecture said during a press conference: “We’re not demanding anything special; we just want to have a chance to stand at the same starting line in our lives.”
“I hope this lawsuit will let us share the hardships of sexual minorities with all people in Japan and that it will help other LGBT people,” said Aiba.
Lawyer Yoshie Yokoyama who represents the couples told the South China Morning Post: “The constitution gives you the right to pursue happiness and equality before the law. Not recognising same-sex marriage violates this.”
No laws forbidding Japanese LGBTQ couples
While no laws in Japan technically prohibit same-sex marriage, the government has interpreted their Constitution as labeling same-sex marriages as illegal.
Because of this, some municipalities reject applications for same-sex couples who want to get married. As of present, ten municipalities in Japan issue same-sex partnership certificates.
One of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, Makiko Terahara, said the Constitution doesn’t state that marriage is a union between opposite sexes.
“In our lawsuit we want to point out the status quo is in violation of Article 24 of the Constitution that guarantees the freedom to marry,” Terahara said.
She noted that it only states that: “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.”
Further, she said that denying equal marriage rights is in violation of Article 14 of the supreme court, which says: “all of the people are equal under the law.”
Hardships faced by Japanese LGBTQ couples
Another plaintiff, Haru Ono, said she faced problems with access to medical services for breast cancer treatment several years ago, when her same-sex partner, Asami Nishikawa, couldn’t sign a consent form for surgery.
Meanwhile, Ikuo Sato– 59 years old and is undergoing HIV treatment– said some hospitals only allow family to visit. This means his same-sex partner wouldn’t be allowed to see him.
“When I die, I’d like to hold hands with the love of my life but now only a family member would be able to access my hospital room,” said Sato, whose partner wasn’t at the press conference because he wasn’t out yet.
Takako Uesugi, who co-leads the Tokyo legal team, told the newspaper Asahi Shimbun: “A country that does not recognize a gay marriage as legal amounts to branding same-sex couples as a ‘union not approved by society’.”
“We would like to restore the dignity of people who love their partners of the same gender,” said Uesugi.
The group has set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise the five million yen to cover their legal expenses.
Earlier, another Japanese lesbian couple had proposed to go on a world tour of same-sex weddings to protest Japan’s lack of same-sex equality.