Japan passes landmark ruling on LGBTQ discrimination

Is the ‘symbolic’ victory a sign of better things to come?

Japan passes landmark ruling on LGBTQ discrimination

A court in Japan on Wednesday (March 17) ruled that it’s ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘discriminatory’ when the government fails to offer substantial marital benefits to same-sex couples.

The landmark ruling in Sapporo, a first-ever on the subject, saw the judge siding with three LGBTQ couples who claimed that the government violated an existing law under the constitution that ensures the ‘right to equality’.

The ‘symbolic victory’ may be a step in the right direction for the conservative nation’s LGBTQ community. Although the couples didn’t win any compensation for missing out on marital benefits all these years, the plaintiffs, their lawyers and activists said the legal recognition that it was biased behaviour was ‘absolutely measureless’.

Read more: LGBTQ staff wins discrimination case against HK govt

The six plaintiffs were among 13 couples who filed similar lawsuits on Valentine’s Day in 2019 across Japan, reported Japan Times. The positive Sapporo ruling may thus impact the other cases.

While it isn’t legal for same-sex couples to marry in Japan, homosexuality itself isn’t criminalised like in other states in Asia. However, it remains a sensitive social issue and individual rights are largely neglected in Japan.

Some parts of the country do issue partnership certificates to couples to help them secure home rentals and allow hospital visitations, but couples don’t get the full legal rights given to heterosexual couples. This includes the right to recognise a will and inheritance laws for partners, as well as parental rights to their children.

Read more: Is HR doing enough for LGBT employees?

To date, Taiwan remains the only country in Asia that fully recognises and protects LGBTQ individuals since they legalised same-sex marriage in 2019. But some countries across East Asia and Southeast Asia do have anti-discrimination laws specific to sexual orientation, including Hong Kong, Macau, parts of Japan and South Korea, and parts of the Philippines and Thailand.

It’s clear then that Asia still has a long way to go to achieve genuine inclusivity, so we spoke with Sowjanya Reddy, head of human resources at HP Greater Asia to find out how HR can support employees regardless of the varied national laws around sexual orientation.

“This is a very sensitive topic in Asia, including in Singapore,” Reddy told HRD. “But we’ve always said that we want HP to be an inclusive company. We want to try and ensure that people bring their whole selves to work and they can do that only in the safety of an environment where they belong, innovate and grow. So it’s very important for us to ensure that they have a safe environment to do that.”

Read more: Asia ‘at a crossroads’ in fight for LGBTQ+ rights

She admitted that some countries in APAC, like Australia and New Zealand, are more active and open about talking about LGBTQ issues compared with others. This is why HR and the leadership team at HP makes the effort to put across initiatives that ensures all employees feel a sense of belonging and have a platform to talk and be heard. Leadership then follows up on these open sharing sessions by LGBTQ individuals and allies and find ways to better support staff.

“We are also big about [supporting employees in] communities where they are not recognised,” she said. “We recruit allies because we believe it’s important that they actually help to create a safe space where [employees] can express themselves, where they can talk about the issues that are unique to them or their communities.”

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