National

LGBT couples speak of their suffering in lawsuit seeking marriage for all in Japan

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

In the first oral argument of an unprecedented trial challenging the constitutionality of Japan’s same-sex marriage ban, LGBT couples spoke Monday of their experiences, aiming to highlight the social stigma and discrimination affecting their lives, and called for the government to recognize their right to marry.

Thirteen couples of various age groups, from their 20s to 60s, are participating in the suit against the central government, brought simultaneously to district courts nationwide on Valentine’s Day. They are each seeking ¥1 million in compensation, with an additional payment worth 5 percent of the damages sought for each year until the damages payment is complete, as well as funds to cover litigation costs incurred during the process.

The couples argue the same-sex marriage ban is in violation of Article 24 of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom to marry, as it states that “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes.”

In Monday’s hearing, two plaintiffs spoke of the legal issues faced by LGBT couples, such as the lack of rights guaranteed in opposite-sex marriages and the social stigma keeping them from revealing their sexuality.

Haru Ono, a breast cancer survivor in her 40s and who has been in a relationship with her partner for 14 years, highlighted the legal problems she faced while undergoing treatment for cancer and a mastectomy surgery three years ago. She recalled that the hospital she attended had denied her partner the right to participate in the hospitalization procedure. Having faced the possibility of death, Ono also worried about parental custody and inheritance issues. She and her partner have been raising three children from previous marriages.

Ikuo Sato, 60, who is gay and HIV-positive, complained that the government’s ban on same-sex marriage may deprive lesbian and gay couples of their rights to assist their partners in their final moments, or to attend funerals. “I’m aware I have only 10 years, or even less, to live. And it would be the happiest thing in my life if my partner and I were accepted as a real married couple while I’m still alive,” Sato said.

His partner did not appear in the courtroom as he keeps his sexuality a secret due to fear of social stigma, Sato said.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that the same-sex marriage ban and the social stigma associated with it affects the mental health of LGBT people and has led many to take their own lives, adding that protection of human rights is the court’s primary responsibility. They also stressed that gender and sexual diversity is respected worldwide and that Japan is the only country in the Group of Seven nations that denies LGBT couples the right to marry.

Shigenori Nakagawa, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, suggested that the trial could continue for five years or longer but said he was determined to win the case.

Due to court congestion, the date for the next session has yet to be decided.