Photo/IllutrationGay couples and their lawyers walk toward the Tokyo District Court to file a lawsuit demanding the legalization of same-sex marriages on Feb. 14. (Shinichi Iizuka)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Six gay couples in Tokyo sued the state at the district court here on Feb. 14, contending that not legalizing same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs were part of an unprecedented nationwide legal action to gain recognition for same-sex marriages, staged on Valentine’s Day to highlight their claims.

In Osaka, three gay couples filed a similar lawsuit the same day, along with another three couples in Sapporo and a couple in Nagoya.

The group lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of not allowing same-sex marriages under the Civil Law and Family Registration Law are the first in the nation.

They are demanding 1 million yen ($9,090) each in damages from the state.

“This is going to be a long-running battle,” said Ken Kozumi, one of the plaintiffs of the suit brought to the Tokyo court and a 45-year-old resident of Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture. “I will hang on with other plaintiffs.”

Another plaintiff in Tokyo, Ikuo Sato, 59, said he is hoping that their court battle will pave the way for legalized gay marriages.

“Discrimination and prejudice still exist in society,” he said. “I intend to keep fighting as the people's right to freedom is at stake.”

Plaintiffs maintain that Article 24 of the 1947 Constitution guarantees freedom of marriage based on consent between two partners, including gay couples, free from the intervention by the state and third parties, and that it refutes the idea of marriage based on the patriarchal family system assumed under the 1898 Civil Law.

Article 24 stipulates: “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes.”

However, the government’s stance has been that same-sex marriage wasn't envisioned when the clause was written.

Many local government offices have refused to register gay couples’ marriages, saying they are “unlawful.”

The couples involved in the suits contend they have been discriminated against in multiple respects because their unions have not been recognized as legal.

Due to the lack of legal married status, gay couples cannot become a legal heir to their partners, gain joint custody of their children, take out a housing loan or sign the consent form for their partner’s surgery.

The plaintiffs say that breaches the Constitution’s Article 14, which states: “All of the people are equal under the law."

They blame the Diet for the situation, saying it has neglected to revise the Civil Law and the Family Registration Law to legalize gay marriages.

Their court papers also state that same-sex marriages are now legally recognized in 25 countries and regions, after the notion of not discriminating against people due to their sexual orientation spread around the world in the 1990s, and that there is a growing understanding about same-sex couples in Japan.

(This article was written by Takuya Kitazawa and Tomoko Yamashita.)