Marriage equality push continues around the world

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Japanese court rules marriage policy unconstitutional

A Japanese court ruled May 30 that the government’s policy against same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Gay and lesbian Japanese couples have been pushing for a marriage equality law for several years, and activists believe the May 30 ruling brings the country closer to that goal.  The ruling puts more pressure on the government to accelerate efforts to protect sexual minorities.

But the court stopped short of granting legal relief to plaintiffs or other gay and lesbian couples. The Nagoya District Court, ruling on a lawsuit filed by a male couple in their 30s from Aichi Prefecture, dismissed their demand for the state to pay them each 1 million yen ($7,100) in compensation and stopped short of acknowledging that the legislative body neglected to take action.

Current laws in Japan “do not even provide a framework to protect the relationships of same-sex couples,” violating the Constitution’s Article 14, which ensures the right to equality, and Article 24, guaranteeing the freedom of marriage, the ruling by Judge Osamu Nishimura said. He noted that the current system excludes same-sex couples with no legal protection for their relationship and thus is unconstitutional as there is no room for government discretion.

Supporters cheered outside the court, waving rainbow flags and holding signs saying, “Another step toward marriage equality.”

Japan’s civil law and family registration law provisions are based on marriage between a man and a woman, as well as privileges resulting from matrimony, including inheritance rights, tax benefits and joint custody of children, that are only granted to heterosexual couples.

The plaintiffs argued that the failure to recognize same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination and is banned under Article 14. They also say that Article 24 does not explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage.

The state has argued that “Article 24 presupposes marriage is not between members of the same sex” as it says, “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes.”

In handing down the ruling, Nishimura made a point of noting that “more people have become supportive of recognizing same-sex marriage,” which means that rationales for excluding same-sex couples from the legal marriage system are becoming “shaky,” resulting in a situation that is “difficult to ignore.”

Still, the court also noted that the public remains divided over the issue. In 2015, certificates recognizing same-sex couples as being in “relationships equivalent to marriage” were introduced by local governments in Japan for the first time.

Asato Yamada, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the court’s ruling said clearly that not allowing same-sex marriage violates the guarantee of equal rights under Article 14 of the constitution, and that Article 24 provides freedom to marry by not specifying a prohibition on same-sex marriage. “It’s a major step toward achieving marriage equality,” he said.

“The judicial branch, on behalf of the rights of minorities, raised its voice and it will be a strong message to the government,” he said. “The message is that the government should resolve the problem immediately.”

Japanese support for LGBTQ+ people has grown slowly, but recent surveys show a majority back legalizing same-sex marriage. Support among the business community has rapidly increased.

Japan is the only member of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized countries that does not recognize same-sex marriage or provide other equal rights protections for LGBTQ+ people.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said that allowing same-sex marriage would change Japanese society and values and requires careful consideration. 

South Korean marriage equality bill heads to legislature

The first ever same-sex marriage bill in South Korea is going to parliament.

Lawmakers in South Korea have proposed the country’s first same-sex marriage bill. The proposal has been lauded as a landmark effort toward lesbian and gay equality in South Korea. 

The marriage equality bill, proposed by Jang Hye-yeong of the Justice party and co-sponsored by 12 lawmakers across all the main parties, seeks to amend the country’s civil code to include same-sex couples in marriage laws.

While passage is considered unlikely and the bill is largely a symbolic first salvo in the battle for marriage equality, the bill is nevertheless expected to put pressure on the South Korean government to expand the legal and social concept of “family” beyond “traditional” perspectives and criteria. Two other bills in a triptych of co-related legal efforts also include civil unions and IVF for unmarried women.

South Korea does not recognize civil same-sex partnerships. The constitution stipulates that marriage and family shall be established “on the basis of individual dignity and equality of the sexes,” leading to a presumption that marriage is limited to the union of opposite-sex couples.

Previous fights for legal rights for same-sex couples have been opposed by religious groups which claim any such legislation would “legalize homosexuality.” These same arguments blocked anti-discrimination legislation.

A landmark ruling in February recognized the legal status of same-sex couples for the first time in terms of national health insurance, making plaintiffs pushing for marriage equality hopeful for a change in marriage laws.

According to a Hankook Research survey, 52% of respondents opposed the idea of legislating same-sex marriage in South Korea.

Namibian Supreme Court says government must recognize foreign same-sex marriages

In a landmark ruling, Namibia’s Supreme Court declared May 16 that the government must recognize the unions of same-sex couples who married in countries where it was legal for them to do so, even though same-sex marriage remains illegal in Namibia itself.

The Namibian case was in response to the residency applications of a German woman who married a Namibian woman in Germany, and of a South African man who married a Namibian man in South Africa, the only country on the African continent that allows same-sex marriage.

The government refused to give the non-Namibian spouses residency rights in the country, on the grounds that their marriages could not be recognized in Namibia. Both couples filed lawsuits, which resulted in the new ruling. 

“The approach of the (interior) ministry to exclude spouses… in a validly concluded same-sex marriage… infringes both their interrelated rights to dignity and equality,” the Supreme Court said.

Gay rights activist Linda Baumann welcomed the ruling as a step in the right direction, telling Reuters that the “verdict and outcome clearly indicates that Namibia is moving towards recognizing diversity in this country irrespective of people’s political or social positioning.”

Namibia Economic Freedom Fighters, a conservative political party, said the Supreme Court was forcing foreign cultural views on Namibians. African opponents of LGBT rights often call them “un-African.”

New Thailand government pledges to recognize marriage equality

Eight political parties that won a majority of seats in Thailand’s May 14 general election signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) May 29, pledging to rewrite the Constitution and recognize same-sex marriage.

Local Thai news reports state that “political parties are vying for votes from Thailand’s gay community, with policies addressing gender equality and the rights of LGBTQ and other sexual and gender minorities.”

Thai newspaper The Nation outlined the various stances of the political parties on the issue, with some declaratively pro-marriage equality, like Move Forward, which has pledged to amend laws to promote gender equality and ensure that all genders have the rights and protections.

Its marriage equality bill will legalize same-sex marriage and provide same-sex couples with the same rights and responsibilities as their heterosexual peers.

The process to address the MOU is slow and is expected to take months.

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