On Wednesday, a Japanese court will decide whether the ban on same-sex marriages is constitutional, a decision that could define the future of LGBT rights in the only G7 country that does not allow such unions.
Japan’s constitution defines marriage as based on “the mutual consent of both sexes”, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s ruling party has yet to say it intends to consider the issue or propose legislation.
Of two cases on the issue decided in Japan, one ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was “unconstitutional”, and the other held the opposite.
It adds weight to the expected ruling by the Tokyo District Court – already influential due to the capital’s outsized influence over the rest of Japan – as it will set the trend, lawyers and activists say.
“If two district courts decide the ban is unconstitutional, it means multiple courts have said the same thing,” said Hajime Yamamoto, a professor of public law at Keio University.
He added that a growing number of favourable legal verdicts would eventually pressure lawmakers to change the law.
“It will be a voice that cannot be ignored.”
Eight people are involved in the case to be decided on Wednesday, claiming that the ban on same-sex marriage violates Japan’s constitution and demanding damages of 1 million yen ($7,200) each.
Japan does not allow same-sex couples to marry or inherit each other’s property, such as a house they may have shared, and does not grant them any parental rights over each other’s children.
Though partnership certificates from municipalities now cover about 60% of the population in Japan, including Tokyo, they do not give same-sex couples the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.
The situation is also having an economic impact, as international companies find it hard to attract and, even more, retain talent.
“Thinking about the future of their lives, they don’t see anything in Japan. So they move to more friendly jurisdictions, like the United States,” said Masa Yanagisawa, head of prime services at Goldman Sachs and a member of the activist group Marriage for all Japan
“We’ve been investing into the person to have a senior role, but then they move … All that talent ends up leaving the country because of the social system.”