Arguing the Benefits of Marriage Equality in Japan

Editors’ Note: This post was written by Tokyo associate Hanae Charlotte Fujinami

Morrison & Forester is a founding member of the Lawyers for LGBT Allies Network (LLAN), a Japanese non-profit dedicated to helping the business community understand the issues faced by LGBT and other sexual minorities. As a member myself, I presented at the New York State Bar Association’s Internal Section’s Tokyo Conference in November 2019, where I—along with two other LLAN members—gave an overview of the status of equal marriage rights in Asia and the history and status of the marriage equality movement in Japan. Joined by panels addressing Human Trafficking, and Diversity and Inclusion, we were one of three groups speaking as part of the Human Rights Plenary Session.

This wasn’t the first time I had done pro bono work to further this particular cause. In the beginning of 2018, along with a team from MoFo that included Jim Hough, Dan Levison, and Aramide Fields, I worked with LLAN on a draft Viewpoint for the American Chamber of Commerce Japan (ACCJ) in support of marriage equality. Inspired by one of the amicus curiae briefs in U.S. Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, in which 379 employers and organizations representing employers argued in support of marriage equality, we put together a business case in favor of marriage equality, highlighting how it would help employers to maximize productivity, and minimize inefficiencies, in human resource management. Marriage equality would also, we argued, give Japanese employers an edge in hiring top quality talent—a particularly salient point given Japan’s current labor shortage.

The ACCJ published the Viewpoint to Support the Recruitment and Retention of Talent by Instituting Marriage Equality in Japan on September 19, 2018 with the support of four other Chambers of Commerce, including the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce Japan, the British Chamber of Commerce Japan, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Japan, and the Irish Chamber of Commerce Japan.

In the past year, the MoFo team has been engaged with LLAN and other marriage-equality advocates throughout the business community in Japan to promote the Viewpoint. Now—just over a year later—more than 70 other organizations have signed up  to support it and to demonstrate the business community’s support of marriage equality. Watching support for the Viewpoint grow has been extremely rewarding. The more I learned about the movement for LGBT rights here in Japan, and witnessed how Japanese companies received the Viewpoint, the more heartened I’ve become about the possibility of seeing marriage equality here in Japan.

Surveys show that the majority of Japanese people support same-sex marriage. And Japanese companies have met our outreach efforts with warmly; companies generally want to be supportive of their LGBT employees. These efforts seem to be paying off: in July, the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations, the Japanese analogue to the ABA, released an opinion stating that denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry is a violation of their civil rights.

As lawyers and employees of companies doing business in Japan, we can help show the wider community that LGBT rights are human rights, and that marriage equality is both mainstream and beneficial to society at large. Hopefully these efforts will help bring marriage equality to Japan in the near future.