Unconstitutional. It was the word LGBT couples across the nation were hoping and praying to hear in a landmark court ruling on Wednesday.

And they weren’t disappointed. In Japan’s first judicial ruling on marriage equality, the Sapporo District Court declared that the government’s failure to recognize same-sex marriage violates the country’s top law.

Presiding Judge Tomoko Takebe sided with LGBT couples who claimed the government was violating Article 14, which ensures the right to equality, describing the government’s failure to implement steps to offer “even a degree” of marital benefits to same-sex couples as “discriminatory.”

Japan court says 'unconstitutional' to bar same-sex marriage | REUTERS
Japan court says ‘unconstitutional’ to bar same-sex marriage | REUTERS

Although the Sapporo case was the first to reach a verdict, there are four other marriage equality lawsuits currently in dispute across the nation.

So how influential will this first verdict be? While each court is autonomous, Sapporo’s ruling may sway other district courts, including in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, toward following suit, writes Tomohiro Osaki in a Q&A on the “Marriage for all Japan” movement and attitudes toward same-sex marriage.

“It’s like a dream,” said one plaintiff after the Sapporo ruling. “Now the government only needs to act.” But as Osaki notes, that is unlikely to happen until the Supreme Court forces the issue. Until then, the legal battles continue in the only G7 country that doesn’t allow same-sex partnerships.