Same-sex marriage in Japan

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Legal status of same-sex unions
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Same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan.

Legal Status of same-sex marriage[edit]

Article 24 of the Japanese constitution 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." Previous to the current constitution, a couple in Japan could marry only if their respective head of household (the father, or in the absence of a father, the eldest son) consented to the union. As a result, arranged marriage was the dominant form of marriage. Those couples who could not obtain permission had to elope and stay in common law marriage.

The purpose of Article 23 of the new constitution was to assert freedom of consenting adult to marry and explicitly establish the equality of both sexes in marriage. The wording defined marriage as a union of husband and wife. Some legal scholars argues that because the intent behind the Article was not in reference to same sex marriage, it need not apply in legalising same sex marriage. However, conservative lawmakers as well as legal scholars who take a literal approach to constitutional interpretation argue that such argument is a stretch.[1]

Koseki as a substitute for marriage[edit]

In Japan, each citizen is registered through the koseki system whereby an individual is registered as a part of household (while in the West, a birth certificate can act as a proof of identity). Koseki registration performs a somewhat similar role to marriage in the West as it endows a member of the same koseki legal power (as next of kin) in dealing with civil matters such as inheritance, hospital visits or the right to organise a funeral. Therefore, registering each other as a part of the koseki works as a substitute for Western-style marriage. As a consequence, Japanese gay couple, in the absence of same sex marriage or civil partnership laws, often use adoption procedures to register themselves as belonging to the same household (where the older partner legally adopts the younger partner, which in absence of a spouse makes the only adopted child the sole executor of that household).

Beginning April 1, 2015, the Shibuya ward office in central Tokyo has offered same-sex couples special partnership certificates which are stated to be equivalent to marriage. While these licenses are not legally recognized as marriage certificates, they are still a useful tool in civil matters such as hospital visitation rights.[2][3]

In response to this action by the Shibuya ward office, the "Special Committee to Protect Family Ties" (家族の絆を守る特命委員会, kazoku no kizuna wo mamoru tokumei iinkai) of the federal ruling Liberal Democratic Party was formed in March 2015 to discuss the matter. An officer from the Ministry of Justice who was invited to comment has stated that the action by Shibuya Ward is legal because the certificate issued is not a marriage certificate and the current Japanese legal code does not prohibit the "partnership" of same sex couples. [4]


On March 27, 2009, it was reported that Japan has allowed its nationals to marry same-sex foreign partners in countries where same-sex marriage is legal. Japan does not allow same-sex marriage domestically and has so far also refused to issue a key document required for citizens to wed overseas if the applicant's intended spouse is of the same legal sex. Under the change, the Ministry of Justice instructed local authorities to issue the key certificate—which states a person is single and of legal age—for those who want to have a same-sex marriages.[5]

In June 2011, the deputy head abbot of Kyoto's Shunkō-in Zen temple announced that the temple would perform same-sex marriage ceremonies as part of Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.[6]

Since May 15, 2012, Tokyo Disney Resort has allowed symbolic (not legally recognized) same-sex marriage ceremonies in its Cinderella's Castle hotel.[7] On March 3, 2013, its first same-sex marriage was held.[8] Koyuki Higashi married her partner, who was only identified by the name Hiroko.[9]

Public opinion[edit]

A May 2013 Ipsos poll found that out of over a thousand Japanese adult interviewees, 24% of respondents were in favor of same-sex marriage and another 27% supported other forms of recognition for same-sex couples.[10] An April 2014 Ipsos poll found 26% of respondents were in favor of same-sex marriage and 24% were in favor of some other form of recognition for couples.[11] A May 2015 Ipsos poll found 30% of respondents in favour of same-sex marriage and a further 28% in favour of some other form of recognition (meaning that 58% supported recognising same-sex couples in some form).[12]

According to a survey by Nihon Yoron Chōsa-ka, conducted on 1 and 2 March 2014, 42.3% of Japanese supported or somewhat supported same-sex marriage, while 52.4% opposed or somewhat opposed it.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Abe: Gay marriage not an option under the Constitution". AJW by The Asahi Shimbun. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  2. ^ Master Blaster. "Japan government hard at work trying to prevent Shibuya Ward approving same-sex marriages". Rocket News 24. 
  3. ^ "The First Place In East Asia To Welcome Same-Sex Marriage". 11 May 2015. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  4. ^ 二階堂, 友紀 (26 March 2015). "渋谷区の「同性婚」条例案、自民内から異論相次ぐ". 朝日新聞社. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  5. ^ "Japan allows its citizens same-sex marriage abroad". Google. Agence France-Presse. 27 March 2009. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  6. ^ Rev. Taka (May 11, 2011). "Promoting the Same-Sex Marriage and LGBT Rights in Japan". Shunkoin Today. 
  7. ^ 同性結婚、ミッキーマウスも支持 東京ディズニーリゾート - AFP(2012年9月8日閲覧)
  8. ^ 元タカラジェンヌと女性のカップルが、東京ディズニーリゾートで初の同性挙式 - インターナショナルビジネスタイムズ(2013年3月3日閲覧)
  9. ^ "Japan: Lesbian pair are first same-sex couple to get married in Tokyo Disney". PinkNews. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  10. ^ "Same-Sex Marriage". Ipsos. 7–21 May 2013. 
  11. ^ "Same-Sex Marriage: Respondents in 15 Countries Assess Their Views on Same-Sex Marriage". Ipsos. June 2014. 
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ "52.4% of Japanese say they oppose same-sex marriage". The Japan Times. Retrieved 30 June 2015.