14 February 2024

LGBTQ+ activists in Japan demand marriage equality for same-sex couples

14 February 2024

Activists and LGBTQ+ community members have handed out colourful chocolates for Valentine’s Day in Tokyo, marking the fifth anniversary of the launch of a legal battle to achieve marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Japan is the only member of the G7 group of nations that still excludes same-sex couples from the right to legally marry and receive spousal benefits.

Support for legalising marriage equality has grown among the Japanese public, but the governing Liberal Democratic Party, known for its conservative family values and reluctance to promote gender equality and sexual diversity, remains the main opposition to the campaign.

Gathered outside of the busy Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, activists and LGBTQ+ community members urged for equal marriage rights as they handed out bags of Meiji “marble chocolate” sweets – Japan’s version of M&Ms – with flyers explaining their lawsuits.

Wednesday is also the fifth anniversary of the launch of first lawsuits petitioning for LGBTQ+ marriage rights.

Since February 14 2019, more than a dozen couples have filed lawsuits in six separate cases at five courts across Japan.

Four of the five rulings so far have found that not granting the right was unconstitutional – one said it was in line with the constitution, while the ruling in the sixth petition, before a district court in Tokyo, is due next month.

At Wednesday’s rally, 41-year-old former police officer who goes by the name of Kotfe, an alias to protect his identity because of fears for legal ramifications, said he and his male partner hope there will be more public awareness and support for sexual diversity and same-sex unions.

He and his partner, a former firefighter, have been together for 12 years and plan to consider marriage once they achieve the right.

Fumiko Suda, a lawyer representing plaintiffs in Japan’s northern city of Sapporo – one of the venues of the six legal case – said she was frustrated over the government’s reluctance to legalise marriage equality.

Marriage equality is now recognised in 36 countries, not only in the West but also in Asia, including Taiwan, Thailand and Nepal, according to the Marriage for All Japan, a civil group which Ms Suda is a member of.

While Japan’s conservative government is seen as stonewalling diversity, recent surveys show a majority of Japanese back legalising same-sex marriage. Support among the business community has rapidly increased.

Though critics said it was watered down, the government enacted an LGBTQ+ awareness promotion law in June. The Supreme Court separately ruled that Japan’s law requiring compulsory sterilisation surgery for transgender people to officially change their gender is unconstitutional.

“Despite many years I have spent with my partner, we are considered strangers, not family” in the eyes of the law, said Hiromi Hatogai, a lesbian who is part of the case before the Tokyo district court.

“We only want to marry and (be) legally recognised, just like any other couple,” she said.

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