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Couples in Japan file Valentine’s Day lawsuits in marriage equality fight

26 people are demanding recognition for their love

In the face of marital inequality, gay couples in Japan have taken matters into their own hands. A timely statement on Valentine’s Day sees over a dozen same-sex couples filing lawsuits against the government, demanding the public and legal recognition of their commitment.

The 13 couples see the refusal of their marriage as a direct rejection of their constitutional right to equality. The fight has been ongoing, and is showing no sign of slowing down. Ai Nakajima, one of the individuals promising to sue, told the BBC: “We are prepared to take this to the supreme court. If we have to take that route, it might take more than five years.”

But the long road is a small price for personal and marital freedom. Japan is famously conservative when it comes to gender and sexuality, with sustained pressure on the country’s LGBTQ+ community to hide their identities – even from friends and family. The risk of discrimination – particularly from older generations – leaves many fearful of what would happen if their orientation was made public.  

While same-sex couples in certain cities have been issued marriage certificates for the purpose of equal treatment in business, they are not legally binding. As it stands, the constitution reads that “marriage shall be only with the mutual consent of both sexes”. This couples involved in the lawsuit claim this has been wrongly interpreted by the government.

The Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, remains insistent that only heterosexual marriages will maintain traditional family values. In a 2018 statement, he said: “Whether to allow same-sex marriage is an issue that affects the foundation of how families should be in Japan, which requires extremely careful consideration.”

But as is often the case, polls suggest that Japan’s younger population is considerably more supportive of LGBTQ+ rights. In a 2018 survey, over 70 percent of participants aged 20-59 said that same-sex marriage should be permitted.