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The Supreme Court has upheld a high court ruling that same-sex couples in de facto marriages should be entitled to the same legally protected benefits as those enjoyed by heterosexual couples in quasi-marriages.

In a judgment dated Wednesday, the top court’s Second Petty Bench finalized the ruling by lower courts that ordered the former partner of the plaintiff to pay ¥1.1 million in damages after the couple broke up due to the former partner’s infidelity. It rejected an appeal by the former partner.

The Tokyo High Court ruled in March last year that both members of the same-sex couple should be given the same legal protection as in quasi-marriage relationships when it came to the Civil Code.

It is believed to be the first Supreme Court ruling to order damages on the basis of the recognition of same-sex couples as being in quasi-marriage relationships.

The Moka branch of Utsunomiya District Court said in September 2019 that it is difficult to say there is a necessity to limit marriage to between a man and a woman, and that there is a significant need to give a certain level of protection to same-sex couples.

On Article 24 of the Constitution, which stipulates that “marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes,” the district court said that this cannot be interpreted as rejecting same-sex marriage.

Noting that the plaintiff and the former partner had lived together for seven years, obtained a marriage certificate in the state of New York in the United States and held a wedding ceremony in Japan, the court said that their relationship was akin to de facto marriage and they were eligible for legal protection.

Tokyo High Court went a step further, saying that the two were in a quasi-marriage relationship. It did not make a ruling regarding the interpretation of the Constitution but supported the damages claim.

In a landmark ruling on Wednesday, Sapporo District Court said that the lack of official recognition for same-sex marriage in Japan was unconstitutional, the first such ruling in the country. Similar lawsuits related to same-sex marriage are being contested across the country.

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