A group of same-sex couples in Japan celebrated Valentine’s Day by suing for marriage equality.
Thirteen couples on Thursday announced plans to challenge the constitutionality of the island nation’s marriage restrictions, according to the Associated Press.
“Progress in Japan has been too slow,” said Ken Kozuma, who wants the government to recognize his marriage to partner Kenji Aiba.
The two men wed in 2013 but the government still won’t recognize the union. Kozumi stressed that holds real consequences should one fall ill.
“We are not allowed to be each other’s guarantors for medical treatment, or to be each other’s heir,” he said.
The Japan Times reports there’s not actually any law prohibiting same-sex on the books, but local governments have interpreted a constitutional provision that refers to “both sexes” in a marriage to effectively outlaw same-sex unions.
Conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2015 decreed the constitution “doesn’t envisage marriage between people of the same sex.”
But some legal experts challenge the official interpretation.
“The Constitution doesn’t state that marriage is an accord ‘between people of both sexes,’ it only says that it must be a consensual decision by both parties,” Shuhei Ninomiya, a professor at Ritsumeikan University, told the Times.
One of the couples suing was legally wed in another county, but the marriage isn’t recognized in Japan, where they live.
Kristina Baumann, a Berliner who wed Ai Nakajima in her native Germany, now lives in Yokohama, Japan. The couple submitted marriage registration documents there showing they had married before moving there, but the government called the union “unlawful,” according to the Times.
“I want the Japanese people to notice that many LGBTQ people are part of society. Many haven’t yet come out and many struggle in relationships considered illegal,” Baumann told the newspaper in Japanese.
“Of course, if we can get married legally someday, that would be super. But first, the society needs to change.”
While Japan stands as a modern nation in many respects, eastern traditions still leave many LGBTQ people closeted from their own families, and the law won’t respect their public unions.
Abe has promoted “traditional” families in the country, even as his own wife marched in Tokyo Pride parades.
The head of state released a statement earlier this year showing a reticence at addressing the issue.
“Whether to allow same-sex marriage is an issue that affects the foundation of how families should be in Japan, which requires an extremely careful examination,” Abe said.
Liberal lawmakers in the nation suggest changes through the political process may be an uphill battle.
“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 AP.
But attitudes are changing among younger generations, polling shows. Marketing agency Dentsu released a poll last year showing more than 78 percent of Japanese individuals in the 20s to 50s fully or somewhat support marriage equality, according to The Asahi Shimbun.