Japan’s High Court Ruling Against Same-Sex Marriage Ban ‘Ground-Breaking’; Delights Plaintiff for Going Step Further than 2019 Ruling

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Plaintiff Eri Nakaya, center, speaks at a press conference in Sapporo after the Sapporo High Court ruled Thursday that Japan’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.

SAPPORO – The Sapporo High Court’s ruling was clear and ground-breaking: The Constitution guarantees the freedom of marriage for same-sex couples.

The ruling handed down Thursday, the first by an appellate court in a series of lawsuits regarding same-sex marriage, determined that the current system that recognizes marriage between only people of different sexes contravened the spirit of the Constitution. Plaintiffs in this case and their supporters were delighted by what they called a “long-awaited ruling” that went significantly further than the decision handed down by the Sapporo District Court, the court of first instance, that also found the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Plaintiff Eri Nakaya smiled through tears of joy and occasionally choked up when describing what the latest ruling meant to her.

“This decision has encouraged us that it’s fine for us to live as a family in this country,” Nakaya, a 32-year-old company employee, said at a press conference in Sapporo.

The main points of contention in this lawsuit were whether Civil Code and Family Registration Law provisions based on marriage between a man and woman violated the supreme law’s Paragraph 1 of Article 24, which stipulates freedom of marriage; Paragraph 2 of the same article, which stipulates that laws on matters pertaining to marriage shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes; and Paragraph 1 of Article 14, which guarantees that all people “are equal under the law.” The March 2021 ruling by the Sapporo District Court only recognized that the current situation violated the Constitution’s Article 14.

However, Thursday’s ruling handed down by presiding Judge Kiyofumi Saito said that given circumstances such as growing social understanding and awareness of sexual minorities, the provisions also violate the two paragraphs of Article 24. Although the plaintiffs’ demands for damages were dismissed, the judge recognized their call for a legal framework because “there seems to be no disadvantage or harm even if same-sex marriage were made possible.”

Nakaya has been with her partner, a company employee in her 30s, for about 16 years. Nakaya is the only person among the three couples who filed the Sapporo lawsuit to have publicly revealed their real name and face. She remained anonymous when the lawsuit was filed in 2019, but she decided to reveal her identity after the case moved to the higher court. “I want the public to know that it’s very ordinary, regular people who have filed this lawsuit,” Nakaya said.

Nakaya’s parents now support her lawsuit. However, Nakaya revealed that her relationship with her parents had been “broken for half of my life.” When Nakaya came out to her parents at the age of 16, her mother wept. Nakaya tried to talk about her partner many times, but her parents refused to listen.

This court case led to a thaw in their relationship. Three months after filing the lawsuit, Nakaya explained the significance of the case to her parents, and pleaded with them “not to deny the existence of my sexuality.” Her parents quietly listened stony-faced, but a while later, Nakaya and her partner received a letter from Nakaya’s mother. The letter contained an apology and messages of encouragement.

If Japan’s laws are revised and same-sex marriage becomes recognized, not just Nakaya and her partner but also their parents will be able to become a family.

“We can take a huge stride forward thanks to this high court ruling,” Nakaya said, her eyes red from crying.