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Lawyers' groups, 2 major law firms express support for same-sex marriage

From right to left, WILJ founding member and former president Rika Beppu, JILA president Miki Sakakibara, Mori Hamada & Matsumoto senior partner Toru Ishiguro and Baker & McKenzie partner Hiroshi Kondo, express their support for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples at a news conference in Tokyo on Feb. 14, 2019

TOKYO -- A group of in-house lawyers, female legal professionals and two major law firms expressed their support for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Japan on Feb. 14, saying that the step is a matter of basic human rights and will contribute to workplaces with diverse talent.

The endorsement by the Japan In-House Lawyers Association (JILA), Women in Law Japan (WILJ) and top law firms Mori Hamada & Matsumoto and Baker & McKenzie came on Valentine's Day, the same day 13 same-sex couples sued the government in four cities including Tokyo and Osaka for damages, saying the state's refusal to legally recognize same-sex marriage is against the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of marriage and equality under the law.

President Miki Sakakibara of JILA, which has more than 1,600 members, told a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo that the right to marriage is "a fundamental human right." She added that upholding this right is very important "for hiring and retention of talented people" who may have same-sex partners.

If you have a working environment recognizing various kinds of people including sexual minorities with talents, "the workplace will be very competitive and productive" and help the Japanese economy to grow," Sakakibara said.

WILJ founding member and former president Rika Beppu, a registered foreign lawyer, said the organization wholeheartedly supports the viewpoint of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) on marriage equality issued in September 2018. The statement calls for the government of Japan to extend the right to marry to LGBT couples. "To do so would remove handicaps facing companies doing business in Japan in recruiting and retaining talent and in treating the full diversity of their workplace equitably," says the ACCJ document. It also points out that disparity between Japan's stance on same-sex marriage and that of other countries makes Japan a less attractive option for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples compared to many other countries vying for the same talent. The viewpoint is supported by the chambers of commerce of six other countries -- Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Ireland and New Zealand.

"It's good for business, it's good for economy, it's good for society as a whole, including the young, the elderly, those with special needs, men and women and all genders," said Beppu. She also shared a conversation she had with her son about same-sex marriage. "I explain to my son that in other countries people can marry who they love. Love is love. My 6-year-old child gets it immediately and instantly. He says, 'So mommy, when two boys get married will they both be wearing bow ties?' The answer is yes. It is really that simple." Beppu expressed her expectation that Japan would recognize equal marriage rights. "I'm confident we can get there, and get there fast."

Mori Hamada &Matsumoto senior partner Toru Ishiguro said his firm also endorsed the ACCJ viewpoint recently with its 100 or so partners unanimously supporting the document. He said that his firm is the first Japanese law firm to take that action, and hoped others would join. Ishiguro also called for Japan to introduce laws to permit same-sex marriage. Hiroshi Kondo, a partner of Baker & McKenzie, also said building a diverse workforce is "a very smart business thing to do."

(By Hiroaki Wada, Staff Writer)

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