A BAN on same-sex marriages in Japan has been ruled unlawful by one of the country's top courts.
The ruling marks a major victory for the LGBT community, and could pile on the pressure for lawmakers to accept same sex unions.
Japan is currently the only G7 nation that still enforces a ban on same-sex marriages due to the country's 1947 post-war constitution, saying that "marriage shall be only with the mutual consent of both sexes".
Many same sex couples struggle to rent apartments together in Japan and are even banned from hospital visits.
More than a dozen couples last year in district courts across Japan have challenged this, arguing they were being denied the same legal rights as heterosexual couple.
The court in Sapporo ruled that the government's current failure to offer same-sex couples ways to "enjoy even a part of the legal effects that arise from marriage… violates article 14" of the constitution, which mandates equality under the law.
The verdict was the first to emerge from one of these lawsuits, sparking celebrations outside the courthouse.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, surrounded by rainbow flags, held up a sign declaring the ruling "a huge step towards equality in marriage".
"I was a bit disappointed when I heard the phrase 'turn down' in the verdict, but later I couldn't stop my tears when the presiding judge said it lacks reasonable foundation and is discriminatory," said Ryosuke Kunimi, one of the plaintiffs.
Opposition lawmaker Kanako Otsuji, one of the few openly gay Japanese politicians, said in a tweet she was "truly, truly happy" about the verdict.
"With this ruling, I urge the Diet, as the legislative branch of the government, to deliberate a proposed amendment to the civil code to make same-sex marriage possible," she wrote.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs and other legal experts hope this ruling will prompt parliament to legalise same-sex marriage
"We think it is necessary to urge parliament to take swift legal measures by clarifying the current illegal situation, which they have neglected and have not rectified despite their legal duty," they said.
Courts in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka are still considering cases filed by other same-sex couples on the issue.
Lawyers for the Sapporo plaintiffs said they were hopeful that "perfect victories" in those cases would add additional pressure on lawmakers.
Historically, Japan was broadly tolerant of homosexuality, with documented cases of samurai warriors during feudal times having male lovers.
But as the country industrialised and modernised from the late 19th century, Western prejudices were increasingly adopted.
In a landmark advance in 2015, Tokyo's bustling Shibuya district started issuing symbolic "partnership" certificates to same-sex couples.
Some other local governments have followed suit, and corporate Japan is also showing signs of moving towards recognition.
But not all LGBT couples in Japan live in areas with such certificates — and even those who have them find they are sometimes not recognised.
One of the plaintiffs in the same-sex marriage lawsuits died in January of a suspected brain haemorrhage, and reports said the doctor would not tell his partner what was wrong as he was not a legal family member.
Taiwan is currently the only place in Asia with marriage equality, having taken the unprecedented step of legalising same-sex unions in 2019.
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