Thirteen same-sex couples in Japan have filed a lawsuit against their government, arguing the country’s rejection of equal marriage under the law is a violation of their constitutional rights.
While there is no law banning same-sex marriage in Japan, the constitution’s marriage provisions have been interpreted as only applying to heterosexual couples, NPR reports.
The lawsuit, filed on Valentine’s Day, is the first legal action of its kind in the country and argues that Article 24 of the constitution should be reinterpreted to include same-sex relationships, according to Japan Times.
Article 24 states: “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.”
Lawyers representing the 13 couples say the government’s legal interpretation ignores parts of the constitution that guarantee marriage equality. “The constitution gives you the right to pursue happiness and equality before the law,” Yoshie Yokoyama, a lawyer representing the couples told the South China Morning Post. “Not recognising same-sex marriage violates this.”
Most Japanese agree that same-sex marriage should be legal. A survey taken in January found that 80% of people between the ages of 20 and 59 in Japan support legalizing gay marriage, according to Japan Today.
However, the country has been slow to accept LGBTQ rights, advocates say. “The pressure to follow a conservative family model, in which heterosexual couples are supposed to marry and have children, is still strong,” lawmaker Mizuho Fukushima told the Associated Press.
Each of the 26 plaintiffs seeks 1 million yen ($9,000) in compensation, maintaining the government’s decision to restrict same-sex marriage has caused them emotional distress, Kyodo News reports.