A Japanese court has ruled that the government’s policy against same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, in a closely watched decision that supporters say is a step toward marriage equality.
The Nagoya District Court in central Japan, however, rejected a request by a male couple that the government pay them compensation for the unequal treatment they face because the current system does not recognise them as legally married.
The ruling is the second that found that the government’s denial of same-sex marriage violates the constitution, while two other decisions did not. The rulings can be appealed against to the Supreme Court.
In his ruling, Judge Osamu Nishimura said the current system that excludes same-sex couples with no legal protection for their relationship is unconstitutional and there is no room for government discretion, Kyodo News reported.
Supporters cheered outside the court, waving rainbow flags and holding signs saying “Another step toward marriage equality”.
Asato Yamada, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the court’s ruling said clearly that not allowing same-sex marriage violates the guarantee of equal rights under Article 14 of the constitution, and that Article 24 provides freedom to marry by not specifying a prohibition on same-sex marriage.
“It’s a major step toward achieving marriage equality,” he said.
“The judicial branch, on behalf of the rights of minorities, raised its voice and it will be a strong message to the government,” he said.
“The message is that the government should resolve the problem immediately.”
Rights activists say Japan’s conservative government has stonewalled a push for equal rights that is supported by the public.
Support for LGBT+ people in Japan has grown slowly, but recent surveys show a majority of Japanese back legalising same-sex marriage. Support among the business community has rapidly increased.
Japan is the only member of the G7 that does not recognise same-sex marriage or provide other equal rights protections for LGBT+ people.
Prime minister Fumio Kishida has said that allowing same-sex marriage would change Japanese society and values and requires careful consideration.
He has not clearly expressed his view as conservatives in his party object to legislation forbidding discrimination against LGBT+ people.
Mr Kishida has said he will listen to various views and watch court decisions on same-sex marriage.
Five legal cases have been brought across the country since 2019 on marriage equality. Tuesday’s decision was the fourth.
Chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said in response to Tuesday’s ruling that cases are still pending and the government will keep watching the decisions.
LGBT+ activists and their supporters have increased their efforts to achieve an anti-discrimination law since a former Kishida aide said in February that he would not want to live next to LGBT+ people and that citizens would flee Japan if same-sex marriage were allowed.
Following widespread outrage over the remarks, Mr Kishida’s governing Liberal Democratic Party submitted legislation to parliament to promote awareness of LGBT+ rights.
The bill, which has not been passed, says “unjust” discrimination is unacceptable but does not provide a clear ban, apparently in response to the opposition of some conservative MPs to transgender rights.