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Same sex couples to sue state seeking marriage recognition on constitutional grounds

TOKYO -- A number of same sex couples have decided to file damages suits against the state at multiple district courts in the capital and other cities to argue that the authorities' failure to recognize same sex marriages is against the constitutional guarantee of equality under law. The legal step would be the first of its kind if taken.

The move could spur social discussions on the marriage system and family in Japan as more and more Western countries are recognizing same sex marriages as legal.

In Japan, municipal governments, who handle marriage registration, do not accept applications for marriage from same sex couples. No prohibition of same sex marriage is explicitly stipulated by law, but Article 24 of the Constitution says "Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes." Based on this provision, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided that it is "not envisioned to recognize the establishment of same sex marriage."

Yet some local governments in recent years have introduced "partnership ordinances" and issue certificates to same sex couples, but this arrangement does not guarantee legally equal treatment of such couples compared to different sex couples in terms of inheritance and income tax deductions.

In July 2015, 455 people hoping to have same sex marriage filed for human right support with the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

Lawyers supporting the couples planning to file damages suits argue that the spirit of Article 24 of the Constitution is to base marriage only on the mutual consent of the partners, and the article does not prohibit same sex marriage. "Not recognizing same sex marriage is against Article 14 of the Constitution which states all of the people are equal under the law."

In the upcoming trial, the plaintiffs will point out the central government's failure to adjust the legal system in response to changes in the times.

A number of lawsuits have been filed over the recognition of same sex couples. A person has filed a damages suit against the family members of a deceased same sex partner as they forced the plaintiff to shutter the business the person was running with the partner. In another trial, a foreign person who lived with a Japanese partner for many years is seeking the nullification of a deportation order.

(Japanese original by Miyuki Fujisawa, Medical Welfare News Department)

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