Between another mass shooting provoked by racial animus, the police that arrested that shooter holding the same racial animus, and the news that a man was caught with firearms near the Vice President’s residence, I thought it’d be good to zero in on a hopeful story in the news.
A district judge in Hokkaido, Japan has ruled that Japan’s failure to recognize same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The plaintiffs in the case had argued that in Article 24, the Constitution defines marriage as follows: 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. Use of the phrase “both sexes”, they argued, implied that any two people can get married so long as they have mutual consent.
While Judge Tomoko Tanabe ultimately sided with the government that the text was clearly meant to describe the consent of both a man and a woman entering into marriage, she decided that the government’s utter failure to provide any sort of marital benefits to same-sex couples violated Article 14 of their Constitution. The relevant section of Article 14 of the Japanese Constitution reads as follows: All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin. She, however, did not award the plaintiffs any damages, believing the State Reparations law had not been violated.
LBGTQ activists in Japan were ecstatic regardless. I liked this quote in particular:
“My tears didn’t stop flowing. The court took us seriously,” said a plaintiff in his 40’s, who uses Ryosuke Kunimi as his pseudonym, following the landmark verdict.
There’s just so much said there. There’s joy sure, but “Took us seriously” says so much about cultural attitudes, and the fact that the plaintiff felt the need to use a synonym speak to the battle to come for activists. While same sex relations have been legal since 1880, “social attitudes keep the LGBTQ community largely invisible and many find it hard to come out even to their families”.
The real work begins from here. The Japanese Diet will have to formally act. Some municipalities issue “partnership certificates” that help with renting places and hospital visitation, they still don’t allow for full visitation rights. To say nothing of inheritance, access to a partner’s assets, or child custody. With the conservative LDP maintaining its grip on power, it’s tough to say when something will get done. But there’s a financial incentive for the recognition of LGBTQ rights, so hopefully politicians can at least see that. Japan is the only nation in the Group of 7 that has not recognized same-sex marriage, and many agree it harms economic opportunities in an increasingly international economy. Even the American Chamber of Commerce came out and said that Japan’s lack of marriage equality makes it less competitive internationally.
It’s a step and I hope no one breaks their stride.
English translation of the Japanese Constitution of 1946
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