Gay American who moved to Japan to be with husband wins partial victory in lengthy legal fight

People attend the Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2022 Parade in Tokyo.

An American man who moved to Japan to be with his husband can stay in the country, a judge has ruled, but cannot access permanent residency.

The Tokyo District Court ruled on Friday (30 September) to deny US national Andrew High both a long-term visa and sought damages of 1.1 million yen (£6,853).

High filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government in 2019.

He has applied for a long-term residency five times on the grounds that he is married to a Japanese national, but has been denied on every occasion because same-sex marriage is not legally recognised in Japan.

High met his partner Kohei in 2004 and married him in the US in 2015, shortly after same-sex marriage was nationally recognised in the country.

But when Kohei was forced to return to Japan due to financial difficulties, the two opted to move together, with High living on a temporary student visa and eventually a business visa.

Japan’s ‘discriminatory’ laws

Despite denying his long-term residency, presiding judge Yoshitaka Ichihara decided High was eligible for a “designated activities” status – which is often granted to foreign same-sex married couples – so that the couple could lead a stable life in Japan.

“When it comes to residency, there is no logical basis for placing same-sex couples comprising a Japanese and a foreign national on an inferior footing to a couple comprising of two foreign nationals,” he said.

“It is against Article 14 of the Constitution, which ensures equality under the law.”

The designated activities visa granted up to a five-year stay in Japan and is renewable, but has restrictions on employment opportunities. Comparatively, the long-term visa has no restrictions at all.

In a news conference after the ruling, High told Japan Times that while it was a “positive step forward”, he was still disappointed with the court’s decision.

“It’s hard to believe that this is a success, and that’s why you’ll see that we’re not all smiles,” he said.

In an interview before the ruling was announced, High said: “I don’t feel that I have a personal claim to live in Japan or the qualifications to be in Japan independently. We just understand ourselves, as I think many gay and lesbian people do, as being essentially the same as heterosexuals.

“Our 18th anniversary is coming up in about six weeks,” he continued. “During this entire time, we’ve never been able to really have a picture beyond a year or so that felt secure.”