A Japanese court on Thursday ruled that the lack of legal recognition of same-sex marriage in the country is in a state of unconstitutionality.

In the fifth ruling handed down over similar lawsuits filed across the country, the Fukuoka District Court fell short of clearly determining that the current legal framework for marriage is unconstitutional.

One other district court had handed down the same decision, while two others ruled the framework is unconstitutional and one called it constitutional.

The latest ruling came as Japan faces growing calls to do more to protect the rights of sexual minorities.

The Fukuoka court said the current Civil Code and other laws disallowing such marriages are "in a state that violates" a section of the Constitution's Article 24, which calls for enacting laws based on individual dignity and equality of the sexes.

Plaintiffs hold up a banner in response to the Fukuoka District Court's ruling that the country's laws not recognizing same-sex marriage are in a state of unconstitutionality on June 8, 2023. (For editorial use only)(No reuse permitted)(Kyodo)

Presiding Judge Hiroyuki Ueda said that from the standpoint of individual dignity, the court "cannot overlook" the fact that same-sex couples are unable to use the marriage system.

But the court ruled that the current legal framework on marriage does not violate other parts of the Constitution, including Article 14, which ensures equality under the law.

The court rejected a damages claim by three same-sex couples from Fukuoka and Kumamoto in southwestern Japan who had demanded 1 million yen ($7,150) for each individual from the state.

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

There have also been cases in which people in same-sex relationships have been denied the right to visit a hospitalized partner because they are not legally recognized as a family member.

In the trial, the state argued that the Constitution presupposes that marriage is not between members of the same sex.

The latest ruling follows decisions by the Nagoya District Court on May 30 and the Sapporo District Court in March 2021.

Both those courts ruled that not recognizing same-sex marriage under civil and family registration laws violates Article 14, while the Nagoya court also said it violates a section of Article 24, which says laws concerning matters pertaining to marriage and family "shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes."

In contrast, the Osaka district court ruled in June last year that banning same-sex marriage under the current legal system is not unconstitutional.

Last November, meanwhile, the Tokyo District Court said that the lack of legal recognition for same-sex marriage puts the system in a "state of unconstitutionality."

Japan, which is this year's chair of the G-7, is the only member of the group of advanced economies that has not instituted laws prohibiting discrimination against sexual minorities or legalized same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Amid the growing pressure, Japan's ruling bloc, led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's Liberal Democratic Party, submitted a bill to parliament in May to promote a better understanding of members of the LGBT community.

While moves to legalize same-sex marriage have faltered, local authorities have begun issuing certificates recognizing sexual minority couples. Although legally nonbinding, the moves are intended to help them apply for municipal housing and other benefits.

According to the activist group Marriage For All Japan, more than 320 municipalities had introduced such certificates as of June.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel comments on the Fukuoka District Court ruling in an interview with Kyodo News in Tokyo on June 8, 2023. (Kyodo)

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