Gay couples file Valentine’s Day lawsuits for marriage equality in Japan

Japanese actress Akane Sugimori (R) kisses her partner Ayaka Ichinose in a 2015 protest for marriage equality, for which 13 gay couples are now suing the government on Valentine's Day.

A group of 13 gay couples have filed lawsuits on Valentine’s Day (February 14) against the Japanese government claiming damages for the lack of recognition of marriage equality.

The 26 plaintiffs, 16 men and 10 women, range in age from their 20s to 50s, and reside in various prefectures in Japan.

The lawsuits were filed in four district courts—the capital Tokyo, Sapporo in the northern island of Hokkaido, and Nagoya and Osaka in central Japan, according to Japanese news agency Kyodo Newso.

In what their lawyers consider the first lawsuit of this kind in the country, the gay couples seek to challenge the lack of recognition for same-sex marriage as unconstitutional and discriminatory, Japanese newspaper Mainichi reported.

“A country that does not recognise a gay marriage as legal amounts to branding same-sex couples as a ‘union not approved by society,’” Takako Uesugi, who co-leads the legal team in the lawsuit in Tokyo, told the newspaper Asahi Shimbun. “We would like to restore the dignity of people who love their partners of the same gender.”

Gay couples claim damages in Valentine’s Day lawsuits for marriage equality

The gay couples are each demanding 1 million yen (£7,000; $9,000) in damages, claiming the government’s lack of marriage equality has caused them emotional distress.

More than 10 cities and municipalities in Japan officially recognise same-sex partnerships, but same-sex marriage is not legal anywhere in the country as the government interprets Article 24 of the Constitution as applying to heterosexual couples only.

Japanese authorities have not yet given recognition to lesbian couple Ai Nakajima and Kristina Baumann, one of the 13 gay couples who filed a Valentine's Day lawsuit and who got married in Germany in 2018

Lesbian partners Ai Nakajima and Kristina Baumann, who married in Germany on 2018, are among the 13 gay couples who filed a lawsuit on Valentine’s Day denouncing the lack of marriage equality in Japan. (Ai Nakajima/facebook)

In legal terms, couples in Japan who don’t marry cannot inherit property without a will, are not entitled to income tax deductions for spouses and do not have co-parental rights.

For one international couple that filed the Valentine’s Day lawsuit, lack of marriage recognition complicates their relationship as residency for foreign partners cannot be assured without a spousal visa.

“Our daily life is always surrounded by fear that something could happen.”

— Kristina Baumann

German 32-year-old Kristina Baumann and 40-year-old Ai Nakajima married in Germany in September after being together since 2011, but Baumann’s residency in Japan is so far reliant on a student visa.

“Our daily life is always surrounded by fear that something could happen,” Baumann told Kyodo News after filing the lawsuit.

The Valentine’s Day lawsuits are the latest example of activism for marriage equality in Japan, where an increasing number of people support same-sex marriage.

A survey of 60,000 Japanese people aged from 20 to 59 published on January 28 in Asahi revealed that 78 percent of respondents support same-sex marriage in Japan.