February 17, 2019
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On Valentine's Day, gay couples to sue Japanese government for right to marry

Tokyo, Feb 6 (EFE).- A group of 13 same-sex couples in Japan will file cases against the Japanese government on Valentine's Day to seek legal recognition of their right to get married - something no Asian country has done so far.

On a day when lovers celebrate their love, the couples will approach the courts in the cities of Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo and Nagoya, alleging that the government was denying them constitutional right to wed.

"We are not asking for anything special, nothing more than what other couples enjoy," Kristina Baumann told EFE.

Braumann, who is from Germany, and her Japanese partner Ai Nakajima have joined 12 other couples to file the cases on Feb. 14.

In December last year, Baumann and Nakajima unsuccessfully sought to register their marriage in Yokohama, the place where they currently reside, after having tied the knot in Germany.

The two women met in 2011 in the European country, where they lived together as partners from 2016, before wedding in September 2018.

They moved to Japan - a country that has legalized gay sex but doesn't allow same-sex people to marry.

After arriving in Japan, they presented their marriage certificate to the administration - a usual procedure for marriages held abroad - despite knowing it could be turned down.

"We wanted to try it anyway," said Baumann, who has been living in Japan on a student visa, but fears he would be forced to leave the country after it expires.

Since Japanese law does not recognize unions between people of the same sex, the two women cannot claim any of the legal benefits of being married, among them a spouse visa for Baumann.

"We are very happy to live here, but our future is not secure. We do not know when the visa will be rejected or will expire," said Nakajima.

"We cannot make plans for the future like a normal couple would."

The other plaintiffs too are in similar situations, faced with a certain inequality that prevents them from planning future, with each one with different motivations for filing their cases.

"Some of them are raising a child together, some are looking for social acceptance, while others are concerned about acquiring a house together or inherit the property of the other after death," said lawyer Kato Takeharu, who, along with a group of other advocates in the northern city of Sapporo, are counsel to five of these couples.

The lawsuit is being coordinated by a team of more than 50 lawyers, among them Takeharu, who are inspired by the landmark Obergefell vs Hodges case in the United States that resulted in the legalization of same sex marriages in 2015.

This group of Japanese lawyers wants the government to legally recognize same-sex unions, a process they estimate could take at least five years.

"The suit will be specific about how the rights of these same-sex couples are being violated because of their marriage not being recognized," said Takeharu.

Article 24 of the Japanese Constitution defines marriage as a union "based only on the mutual consent of both sexes," which, according to these lawyers, presents doubts about the possibility of the text banning homosexual unions.

With this argument, they also reject the justification offered by several members of the Dieta, the Japanese parliament, who claim legalization of same-sex marriages would be "unconstitutional."

A study by advertising firm Dentsu in January revealed that 78 percent of Japanese people between 20 and 60 years were supportive of same sex unions, underlining a growing interest in Japanese society about the legal situation of LGBT people.

In the survey, published by Asahi newspaper, 8.9 percent of the 60,000 people questioned identified themselves as a part of the sexual minority.

"I hope discrimination in Japan ends and everyone can marry whomever they want," said Baumann, while also underlining the difficulty of building a relationship in these circumstances.

"I only want to live with her like other couples do in my country," said her partner.

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