- Q1: What is same-sex marriage?
Same-sex marriage policies allow marriage between couples of the same sex, and don’t limit marriage to only opposite-sex couples.
Currently, only couples of the opposite sex are allowed to marry in Japan.
Furthermore, the sex of people who wish to marry is determined by their legal sex, such as the sex listed on their family registry (koseki). So, for example, even if a couple identifies as the opposite sex, they would not be able to marry if they are legally considered the same sex.
If two people want to live together, their legal sexes and gender identities shouldn’t matter.
If same-sex marriage is legalized, couples who wish to marry would be able to do so regardless of their sex or gender.
Q2: What is the meaning of the (Japanese) name, “Freedom of Marriage for All”?
- “Freedom of marriage” means that when two people have decided to live their lives together and want to get married, they are able to; and they aren’t forced to marry if they don’t wish to. The choice to marry should be equally provided to all people, regardless of whether they are a same-sex or opposite-sex couple. This is why we chose the phrase, “for all.”
Q3: Why are you seeking same-sex marriage?
Because couples who are legally the same sex can’t marry, there are many situations in which they are not legally acknowledged as couples. For example, if one partner passes away without leaving a will, the surviving partner cannot inherit any of the deceased partners’ property regardless of how long they have lived together. Even if a same-sex couple raises children together, they cannot both be the legal guardians of those children. A foreign partner in a heterosexual marriage would be able to obtain a spouse visa to live in Japan, but same-sex couples do not have that right. There are many other situations in which same-sex couples encounter hardships.
Furthermore, there are situations in which heterosexual couples that aren’t legally married are recognized as being in a common-law marriage. The law guarantees their right to receive a survivor’s pension, and they are also protected by legal interpretations such as those that grant them the ability to claim damages for pain and suffering as family members of the deceased. However, it is unclear whether same-sex couples are recognized as being in common-law marriages and are granted the same protections. In fact, there is a case in which a person who has been denied survivor benefits under the Crime Victim Compensation Program after their same-sex partner was killed has gone to trial.
Same-sex couples also face issues when receiving medical care. There are no legal restrictions limiting hospital visitations to only those that are legally family, but some hospitals may prohibit a patient’s same-sex partner from visiting the patient, receiving information about the patient’s health status, or give consent to medical treatment on behalf of the patient.
Simply loving one another is not enough while same-sex couples are discriminated against.
The fact that marriage between same-sex couples is not recognized also means that these couples will never be socially recognized. It can lead to the impression that same-sex relationships are inferior to heterosexual ones. This violates individual dignity. There must also be many same-sex couples who have broken up because they see no future in their relationship. Changing the system will also affect how people think. Because of the above reasons, we seek same-sex marriage.
- Q4: Aren’t same-sex couples allowed to marry in places like Shibuya in Japan? Aren’t local governments’ partnership systems enough?
Local governments’ same-sex partnership systems and marriage are completely different. There are many ways in which same-sex couples struggle due to not being able to marry.
For example, if one partner passes away, the surviving partner cannot inherit their property; if the couple raise children that are biologically related to only one partner, the other partner cannot be their legal guardian; a foreign partner cannot obtain residency as the Japanese partner’s spouse, etc. These issues exist because of legal systems, so they cannot be resolved by local governments’ partnership systems. Of course, many of these issues aren’t due to laws, and can be resolved if property management companies and medical institutions would acknowledge and respect the couple’s relationship. We can expect partnership systems to make it easier for same-sex relationships to be respected, but there are no penalties for not respecting them, and resolution is not guaranteed.
In order to fundamentally resolve these issues, marriage needs to be available to all, regardless of legal sex.
Q5: Same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. If you want to legalize same-sex marriage, shouldn’t you demand constitutional reform?
That isn’t true. The Constitution doesn’t prohibit same-sex marriage. Rather, since the right to marry who one desires is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the Constitution, not recognizing same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
Those who believe that same-sex marriage is unconstitutional cite Article 24, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution which states, “marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes” and interpret this to mean that the Constitution bans same-sex marriage.
However, it doesn’t actually say that it bans marriage between the same sex.
Furthermore, under the old Japanese Civil Code, which was in effect until 1947, in line with the traditional Japanese family system, marriage required not only the will of the parties concerned, but also the consent of the head of the family (the person considered to be the most important person in the family). Article 24 Paragraph 1 of the Constitution abolished this requirement and changed legal systems regarding the family that discriminated against women (such as those that prohibited women from owning property), guaranteeing equality between men and women.
What the Constitution meant was, “From now on, you can only get married with the consent of both parties, without the approval of the head of the family.”
The freedom to marry is important regardless of whether one’s partner is legally the same sex or the opposite sex. Denying people the choice to marry, and to choose who and when to marry, on the grounds that their partner is of the same sex, is an unjust violation of the freedom to marry guaranteed by Article 24 Paragraph 1 of the Constitution. And treating people differently depending on whether they are same-sex couples or opposite-sex couples is unjust and discriminatory treatment that violates the principle of equality stipulated in Article 14 of the Constitution.
There is absolutely no need to amend the Constitution to allow same-sex couples to marry. We only need to amend laws such as the Civil Code and the Family Register Act.
For more information on same-sex marriage and the Constitution, please also read this page.
Q6: But isn’t the Japanese government of the view that same-sex marriage is prohibited by the Constitution?
Currently, neither the government nor constitutional theory take the position that the Constitution prohibits a same-sex marriage system.
A Diet member has asked a question precisely on this topic, inquiring, “Do you currently consider same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional and in violation of Article 24 of the Japanese Constitution?” The government merely responded that it “is not intended to recognize the establishment” of same-sex marriage,” and has not deemed same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.
(Government Response to House of Representatives member Seiji Osaka’s “Question regarding same-sex marriage under the Japanese Constitution,” Cabinet, House of Representatives Answers to Question No. 257, 196th session of the National Diet of Japan, May 11, 2018)
The government also addressed the Certificate of Non-Acceptance in the same response, saying, “under the Civil Code (Act No. 89 of 1896) and the Family Register Act (Act No. 224 of 1947), “husband and wife” is defined as a husband who is a man and a wife who is a woman who are the parties to a marriage; same-sex marriage is not recognized by law, and we cannot accept Marriage Registration applications from those who intend to marry someone of the same sex.” The government cites the Civil Code and the Family Register Act, not the Constitution, as the reasons that they cannot accept same-sex marriage applications.
Even in the “Marriage for All” lawsuits, although the government claims that it does not expect to recognize same-sex marriage, it has not claimed that same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
For more information, please read this page.
Q7: Won’t legalizing same-sex marriage accelerate the decline of Japan’s birthrate?
Legalizing same-sex marriage is a completely separate issue from the declining birthrate.
Same-sex marriage is now legally recognized in about 30 countries and regions; there is no scientific proof that the introduction of same-sex marriage has affected the birthrate in any of these countries.
Even if same-sex marriage is legalized, there will be no change in the birthrate since it is unlikely that heterosexuals will marry those of the same sex due to the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The opinion that “legalizing same-sex marriage will accelerate the decline of Japan’s birthrate” incorrectly assumes that 1. Legalizing same-sex marriage will increase the number of gay people and 2. If same-sex marriage isn’t legalized, gay people will marry people of the opposite sex.
However, since sexual orientation is not a choice, 1. Legalizing same-sex marriage will not increase the number of gay people.
Furthermore, since the rate of people who stay unmarried their entire lives is increasing year by year, the percentage of sexual minorities that choose to marry someone of the opposite sex because same-sex marriage isn’t legalized (and they feel pressured to by those around them) is also expected to remain small. Then, 2. Banning same-sex marriage will not significantly increase the birthrate. Above all, we should reject attitudes that force people to make important life decisions such as marriage and having children for the good of the nation.
- Q8: Since marriage is for the purpose of raising children, we shouldn’t allow same-sex couples to marry since they can’t have children, right?
There is no law that says that you cannot marry if you are unable to have children.
Heterosexual men with azoospermia and women who have had their uterus or ovaries removed due to medical issues can marry, and even if they become infertile after marriage, their marriage will not be annulled or dissolved. Under current Japanese law, you must become infertile in order to change your legal sex ※1. However, even transgender people who have undergone gender-affirming surgery can marry after they have changed their legal sex ※2. There are other cases in which couples who cannot have children can get married, such as those that marry on their deathbed or while incarcerated.
As you can see, marriage is an institution that is independent from the ability to bear children, so the fact that same-sex couples can’t have children is an insufficient reason to deny their right to marry.
There are probably couples around you who are happily married but don’t have children. At its heart, marriage is a system that protects the rights of two people to live happily together.
※1 Act on Special Cases in Handling Gender Status for Persons with Gender Identity Disorder, Article 3 Paragraph 1 Item 4
“has no reproductive glands or whose reproductive glands have permanently lost function”
※2 One of the requisites for changing one’s legal sex is for the person to not be currently married (Act on Special Cases in Handling Gender Status for Persons with Gender Identity Disorder, Article 3 Paragraph 1 Item 3), so people who are married cannot change their legal sex. After one changes their legal sex, even if they were previously unable to marry because they were the same legal sex as their partner, they would be legally treated as the opposite sex and would be able to marry their partner. On the other hand, if they were legally treated as an opposite-sex couple before the change, after one partner changes their legal sex, they would be considered the same sex and would be unable to marry.
Q9: Legalizing same-sex marriage would eventually lead to allowing same-sex couples to raise children. But children need love from both their fathers and mothers for healthy development. I am against same-sex marriage because it would be unfair to the children.
Same-sex couples are already raising children in Europe, America, and Japan. Research has not revealed any solid evidence that children experience negative effects from being raised by gay or lesbian couples.
Scientific research by the American Psychological Association and Melbourne University, etc. have concluded that parenting by same-sex couples has no negative effects on children, and there are findings that suggest that households with same-sex parents are good environments for children.
Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed same-sex marriage in the U.S. stated that the recognition of same-sex marriage would actually protect children being raised by same-sex couples and their families.
- Q10: Why are you seeking marriage equality when there are many issues with the current institution of marriage? Shouldn’t you be demanding for a legally effective partnership system?
The institution of marriage has many issues, such as requiring couples to share the same last name, but the conditions or requirements for marriage are not immutable and have not always been fixed. For example, marriage has changed significantly since the Meiji Era.
Under the old Japanese Civil Code of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan enacted during the Meiji Era, marriage required the consent of the head of household, and in many cases, parents determined marriage partners against the person’s will. However, this requirement was fundamentally revised after the war, and marriage no longer requires the head of household’s consent.
Some changes have also taken place recently. Women used to face a six-month waiting period before they were able to remarry after a divorce, but the Civil Code was amended following a Supreme Court ruling in 2015, reducing the period to 100 days. In this way, the institution of marriage was never an immutable system; rather, it can be modified and improved in accordance with the progression of the values of the times. Even if the institution of marriage itself has issues, that does not necessarily mean that we shouldn’t demand the legalization of same-sex marriage.
In addition, while legally effective same-sex partnership systems are meaningful in that they create diversity in relationships, it does not eliminate the inequality between heterosexual and same-sex couples since same-sex couples still cannot access marriage. Even if marriage and partnership systems provided the exact same legal benefits, same-sex couples would continue to be treated as second-class citizens.
Furthermore, creating an entirely new system for same-sex couples would require much more time compared to making the existing institution of marriage accessible to couples who are legally the same sex.
Q11: Why are lawsuits being filed now when there have always been people who have struggled because they could not get married?
Homosexuality has been subject to discrimination and prejudice in Japan for a long time. People who are attracted to the same sex have carried a strong sense of fear that they themselves would become subject to such discrimination and prejudice and have carried the burden of not being able to be open about their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, we cannot deny that this situation still exists today.
However, discrimination against gay people has gradually decreased in Japan and abroad. Especially in recent years, the movement has been gaining speed. An increasing number of countries are implementing legal protections for same-sex couples; currently all G7 countries (the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada) except Japan and Italy have allowed same-sex marriage, and Italy has a partnership system on a national level.
Even in Japan, an increasing number of local governments have officially acknowledged same-sex relationships. Local governments and companies have also started to make benefit programs available to same-sex couples as well. Under these circumstances, people have started to call for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Back when discrimination and prejudice against homosexuality were more prominent, people could not even imagine speaking out and protesting even if they wanted to do so. Things have gradually changed since then, and now we have finally arrived at a place in time where we can demand the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Moreover, same-sex couples who want to get married continue to lose out on the benefits of marriage every day that same-sex marriage is not legalized, so no day is “too soon” to legalize it. Same-sex marriage should be legalized as soon as possible.
Q12: In contrast to Western countries where sodomy laws (which criminalized certain sexual behaviors such as intercourse between those of the same sex) existed, Japan has traditionally been tolerant of homosexuality. Isn’t same-sex marriage unsuited for Japanese culture?
Setting aside the debate about whether Japan has traditionally been tolerant towards homosexuality, simply having such a society does not mean that we do not need to allow same-sex marriage. Allowing same-sex marriage is not a matter of culture, but a matter of human rights.
The freedom of marriage is a basic right that should be granted to everyone equally, regardless of their sexuality. It is irrelevant whether society is tolerant towards or culturally accepting of homosexuality. Furthermore, neither Japan nor the West has had a tradition or culture that allowed same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage gained recognition in the West because of an increased awareness that this issue is a matter of human rights and that not allowing same-sex marriage is discrimination based on sexual orientation.
This awareness is now common sense worldwide, and one cannot deny it on the basis of tradition or culture.
- Q13: My gay friend does not particularly want to get married and says, “Even if same-sex marriage is allowed, I don’t plan on getting married. I’d rather be left alone.” Couldn’t you say that the majority feels this way?
Some heterosexual people do not get married, but that does not mean that the institution of marriage is unnecessary. Since gay people have thus far been removed from the institution of marriage, some may also have difficulty envisioning a life plan that includes marriage. However, just because there are people who choose not to marry doesn’t mean that those who do want to marry should be deprived of this right. It would be more equitable to provide the option of marriage to gay people who don’t wish to live alone or who would like to start a family with a particular partner.
Q14: Gay people can individually make arrangements, such as writing a will or filing for an adoptive marriage. Don’t these arrangements make marriage unnecessary?
A will is only relevant after one’s partner passes away, and has no legal effect while a couple is still alive and living together. Wills have many rigid requirements that must be followed, and there is a risk that the will could be nullified if a couple fails to adhere to all requirements. This is quite different from spouses automatically being lawful heirs even if their deceased partner has not left a will.
The legal right share* that one is entitled to also varies depending on whether the heir is a spouse.
While adoptive marriages make it possible for same-sex couples to become relatives or to inherit property after a partner passes away, adoptive marriage has more legal limits compared to actual marriage. Furthermore, same-sex couples do not actually wish to become parent and child, so adoptive marriages are an inadequate solution.
Married couples have certain rights and obligations, such as being obligated to live together, support each other (e.g., sharing the cost of living), and remain faithful to one another.
A married couple also shares rights and responsibilities for their children, fulfilling their parental responsibilities together or maintaining the right to see their children regularly after a divorce. As such, we cannot possibly say that being able to write a will or choose an adoptive marriage is enough.
*The right to claim a specific portion of the inheritance regardless of a will, depending on one’s relation to the deceased. For example, in the case where a parent is the only lawful heir other than a spouse, if the deceased was married, the parent can only claim one-sixth of the inheritance. However, if the deceased was not married, the parent is entitled to one-third of the inheritance, which is twice as much. Additionally, if both mother and father are alive and well, each parent’s legal right share will be halved, making their combined portion one-sixth or one-third of the inheritance.
Q15: What is the current status of the “Marriage for All Japan” lawsuits?
As of June 2020, the lawsuits are in progress in 5 places: Sapporo, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Fukuoka.
Click here for more information about the current status of the lawsuits.
The documents submitted in these lawsuits (and those submitted by the national government) are published on a website called “CALL4” on the “Marriage for All” lawsuit page.
Q16: How can we achieve same-sex marriage in Japan? Is there anything I can do to help?
To make same-sex marriage a reality in Japan, a system (law) that lawfully allows marriage between same-sex couples must be legislated in the Diet. In addition, if a court rules that the current marriage system is unconstitutional because it prohibits marriage between same-sex couples, this will encourage the Diet to establish a system that enables same-sex couples to marry.
Many people, including you, have the power to influence the Diet or the court by continuing to publicly express that you want same-sex couples to be able to marry and that not allowing same-sex marriage is discrimination. It may also be beneficial to write to your local representatives about legalizing same-sex marriage.
There are many ways to support our lawsuits and activism including signing the petition in support of the “Marriage for All Japan” lawsuits, attending trials, spreading the word that trials are happening, supporting our crowdfunding campaign, making donations, and so on.
Marriage for All Japan leads many different efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, such as disseminating information, holding events, speaking with government representatives, and conducting surveys. All of these activities cost money.
Please financially support us by becoming a monthly donor. We also appreciate one-time donations.
We also hold online events to promote same-sex marriage, and we would love to have you join us. Even if you cannot attend the events themselves, promoting our events through social media will help us gain supporters.
Let’s all work together to create a society that enables people to freely choose marriage, regardless of their sex or gender.