Japan is the only G-7 nation that forbids marriage between people of the same sex, and that ban will continue after a Japanese court ruled the law preventing same-sex couples from marrying was not unconstitutional.
The ruling was a blow to activists who had hoped that Japan would join Taiwan among the only Asian countries allowing gay marriage.
A court in Sapporo in 2021 found that not allowing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. But in a district court in Osaka, that court found no constitutional grounds to allow gay marriage.
Japan’s constitution defines marriage as being based on “the mutual consent of both sexes”. But the introduction of partnership rights for same-sex couples in Tokyo last week, along with rising support in opinion polls, had raised the hopes of activists and lawyers for the Osaka case.
The Osaka court said that marriage was defined as being only between opposite genders and not enough debate on same-sex marriage had taken place in Japanese society.
The same might have been said of the debate on same-sex marriage in the U.S. Activists steamrolled the issue to the Supreme Court in 2015 with very little debate on the impact on society that legalizing same-sex marriage would have — legally, culturally, and morally. We’re still discovering that today.
Last week, the Tokyo prefectural government passed a bill to recognise same-sex partnership agreements, meaning local governments covering more than half of Japan’s population now offer such recognition.
While Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said the issue needs to be carefully considered, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party has disclosed no plans to review the matter or propose legislation, though some senior party members favour reform.
An upcoming case in Tokyo will keep alive public debate on the issue, particularly in the capital, where an opinion poll by the local government late last year found some 70% of people were in favour of same-sex marriage.
Japan has been doing this governing thing for thousands of years. They know what they’re doing. That they want to pause, take a breath, and think before taking the next step speaks to the traditional nature of their society born out of long experience and trial and error.
The more cosmopolitan areas of Japan have a more liberal outlook on issues like gay marriage and abortion. But the bulk of Japan is still largely traditional.
Japan will eventually legalize same-sex marriage, but it won’t be because of pressure from Western groups.