The Tokyo District Court said on Wednesday that Japan’s ban on same-sex marriage is not unconstitutional, Reuters and local media reported, but it also noted that the absence of any legal system for same-sex couples to have families was an infringement of their human rights. The decision on the specific case, in Japan’s capital and its most populous city, is a blow to the LGBTQ rights movement, though advocates maintain hope for future change.
“Although frustrating, this is good news,” Yuri Igarashi, the president of the non-profit Rainbow Soup, which supports awareness of LGBTQ issues in Japan tells TIME. “I see this ruling as a step forward toward the legalization of same-sex marriage.”
The LGBTQ rights movement in Japan—the only member of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations that doesn’t recognize same sex unions—has had mixed success in recent months.
Wednesday’s case, which involved eight people who said Japan’s same-sex marriage ban contravenes the country’s constitution and who were seeking damages of about $7,000 each, is the third in a series of rulings that are expected over the coming months. More than a dozen same-sex couples filed lawsuits at district courts on Valentine’s Day in 2019 in a push to advance marriage equality in Japan.
The Tokyo court’s ruling was in line with a June ruling from a court in Osaka, which said that freedom of marriage in the constitution referred only to male-female unions, and that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage was therefore constitutional.
That followed a ruling the other way in March last year by the Sapporo District Court, which said Japan’s definition of marriage, which excludes same-sex couples, violated constitutional guarantees of equality.
Earlier this month, the Tokyo metropolitan government began issuing partnership certificates to same-sex couples, which allow same-sex couples that live, work or study in the Tokyo area to benefit from some rights and welfare programs that opposite-sex couples are eligible for, like being able to visit their partner in the hospital and living in public housing together. Although Tokyo’s rollout of a partnership system means that local governments in areas where about 60% of the country’s population live have partnership rights, these systems don’t allow those couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples. The partnership certificates are not legally binding, and don’t give same-sex couples the right to things like joint custody of children or spousal tax deductions.
Although support has grown for LGBTQ rights in recent years, especially among younger Japanese people, many of the country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers are deeply conservative and have balked at recent pushes to advance LGBTQ equality. In 2021, the government failed to enact a law banning discrimination against LGBTQ people despite a push from activists ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, in which a record number of LGBTQ athletes competed.
Still, advocates see the cases winding their way through Japan’s court systems as a potential path for progress. “I felt a sense of hope for the judiciary, which is known as a bastion of human rights,” says Igarashi. “We will keep our eyes open for future court decisions in other regions.”
Write to Amy Gunia at firstname.lastname@example.org.