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Same-sex couples in Japan seek damages in joint legal action over marriage ban

Plaintiffs in a same sex marriage lawsuit enter the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 14, 2019. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Thirteen same-sex couples filed damages lawsuits against the government on Feb. 14, arguing that the current system barring them from officially tying the knot is against the constitutional guarantee of "freedom of marriage."

The lawsuits filed with district courts in Tokyo, Osaka in western Japan, Sapporo in northern Japan and Nagoya in central Japan mark the first joint legal action on the issue of same-sex marriage in Japan.

The 13 couples -- eight male and five female pairs aged from their 20s to 50s -- include Japanese nationals as well as foreigners. Each of the plaintiffs is seeking 1 million yen in damages for psychological suffering.

According to the lawsuits, the plaintiffs argue that Article 24 of the supreme law, which says that marriage "shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes," defines freedom of marriage and does not prohibit same-sex marriages. They say that it is unconstitutional for local governments to refuse to accept same-sex marriage applications by citing the use of the expression "husband and wife" in the Civil Code or the Family Registry Act.

The plaintiffs also point out that same-sex couples, unlike their legally recognized counterparts, face a series of disadvantageous treatments. These include prohibition of inheritances between partners and exclusion of income and residential tax breaks for their dependents as well as unavailability of visas for foreign partners of Japanese nationals as dependents.

They argue that many violations of rights damaging the dignity of same-sex couples are against Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality under the law.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs state that homosexuality, once considered a "mental illness," has secured established scientific recognition since 1980 that it is not a target for medical treatment. They emphasized that the United States and European countries have acknowledged same-sex marriages since 2001, while the United Nations Human Rights Committee has urged the government of Japan since 2008 to prohibit discrimination due to sexual orientation.

Based on these domestic and international circumstances, the couples said that the Diet has failed to take legislative action to acknowledge same-sex marriages. They pointed out that the current Japanese system lost justification when one of the couples in Tokyo officially married in Germany in September last year.

While the plaintiffs are seeking financial redress from the state, one of their lawyers explained, "The true purpose of the lawsuit is to have the court rule that (the current situation) is unconstitutional."

(Japanese original by Akira Hattori, City News Department and Miyuki Fujisawa, Medical Welfare News Department)

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