Same-sex couples were left stunned by a June 20 court ruling that took the opposite position to a landmark decision last year that said the central government’s failure to recognize marriages between those of the same sex was unconstitutional and discriminatory.
The Osaka District Court ruled that provisions in the Civil Law and Family Register Law that do not recognize same-sex marriages are, in fact, legally binding under the Constitution.
Three same-sex couples were the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and they vowed to appeal the ruling to the Osaka High Court.
One of the plaintiffs, Akiyoshi Tanaka, said after the ruling, “We would not be able to keep on going if we were disappointed by a single ruling. I vow to do everything I can (to bring about a change in the system) from now on.”
Other plaintiffs have filed similar lawsuits in three other district courts that are awaiting rulings.
The Sapporo District Court ruling in March 2021 decreed that legal provisions against same-sex couples were discriminatory and a clear violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees equal treatment under the law, on grounds they were deprived of marriage rights that apply to heterosexual couples.
The Osaka District Court noted, however, that the inability of same-sex couples to marry under Japanese law had “grave effects” and called for efforts to protect the rights of same-sex couples so they can lead lives that are recognized by officialdom.
At the same time, the court explained that other provisions outside the institution of marriage were available to protect the rights of same-sex couples.
The court added it was difficult to conclude that provisions in the Civil Law and Family Register Law were unconstitutional when discussions on what would constitute an appropriate system had not reached a satisfactory conclusion.
The plaintiffs argued they are disadvantaged under current law because they were not legally recognized with rights given to heterosexual couples, such as being the lawful heir of their partner.
But the Osaka District Court ruled that most of those problems could be resolved using other provisions of the Civil Law, such as writing up the appropriate contracts or wills.
Because such provisions existed, the law could not be construed as violating Article 14, it said.
Both district court rulings found no violation of Article 24 of the Constitution, which states that marriage is based on “the mutual consent of both sexes.”
The Osaka District Court found that the article was not intended to define same-sex marriages.
The court also asserted that, as no laws were found to be unconstitutional, the argument by the plaintiffs that the Diet had failed to take the necessary legislative action to allow same-sex marriages was inadmissible.
The plaintiffs had sought compensation from the central government for damages resulting from Diet inaction.
Machi Sakata, another of the plaintiffs, was incensed at the ruling’s call to rely on other legal provisions to protect the rights of same-sex couples.
“We only want to be included under the same marriage system” as opposite-sex couples, Sakata said.