Court rejects damages claim by woman over same-sex benefits

The Sapporo District Court on Monday rejected a damages suit by a woman in a same-sex relationship arguing that the refusal by her former employer the Hokkaido Prefectural Government and a mutual aid association to provide her with spousal benefits was unconstitutional.

In the lawsuit filed at the court, Kaoru Sasaki, 54, sought ¥4.8 million, saying the prefectural government and association’s refusal of benefits violated the guarantee of equality under the Constitution.

According to the complaint, Sasaki applied for spousal benefits and an increase in special benefits for employees working in cold regions in July 2018 and April 2019 when she was working for the prefectural government, utilizing the Sapporo city government’s program recognizing same-sex partnerships.

But the Hokkaido government and the aid association for prefectural employees rejected the applications, saying such benefits are limited to heterosexual couples who are married or are in a de facto marital relationships.

Sasaki, who left work in June 2019 and filed the lawsuit in June 2021, called their response “discrimination based on sexual orientation, which is beyond a person’s control.”

She says she was entitled to receive the benefits as she was in a de facto marital relationship with her partner.

Same-sex partnerships are not legally recognized in Japan, and LGBTQ people are not granted the benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples such as medical visitation rights and the ability to make medical decisions for their partners or co-parenting rights and spousal income tax deductions.

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