- On Wednesday, a Japanese district court in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, ruled for the first time that restrictions against same-sex couples are unconstitutional.
- The court found that while some provisions of the Japanese constitution enshrine marriage as a union between a male and female, they don’t preclude the possibility of same-sex marriages. It also argued that other provisions ensure equal rights under the law for all citizens.
- Other current cases in Japan deal with the same issue regarding same-sex marriage as well as the need to pass legislation on the matter.
- LGBTQ+ people don’t face widespread repression in Japan, but also don’t have the same rights hetero couples enjoy, such as medical visitation rights, the ability to adopt, and spousal income tax deductions.
Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.
Legal Victory for Same-Sex Japanese Couples
For the first time in Japanese history, a major court ruled on Tuesday that the government’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.
This case is the first to be decided on out of multiple similar ones brought by 13 couples who coordinated to sue the government on Valentine’s Day 2019 in Sapporo, Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. During proceedings, the government relied on language from Article 24 of the constitution, which states that “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.”
The court agreed with the argument; however, it also agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that while Article 24 might apply to hetero couples, it doesn’t preclude the right for same-sex couples to marry. Ultimately, the court found the couples’ argument that the government violated Article 14, which guarantees equality under the law, the most compelling.
Following the decision, supporters and the plaintiffs held celebrations outside the courthouse. “My tears didn’t stop flowing. The court took us seriously,” said a plaintiff in his 40s, who uses Kunimi Ryosuke as his pseudonym.
According to a government official, the Justice Ministry will now study the details of the decision and pending lawsuits around the country, although it should be noted that the ruling doesn’t make same-sex marriage legal across all of Japan. Despite lacking widespread authority to change the law, the ruling does hold weight among the other district courts that could lead to changes in the law itself.
Unfortunately for same-sex couples, that process may take some time, as the political will to officially write this into law is “lukewarm at best,” according to the Japan Times. Currently, Japan is the only G7 member state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.
Growing Recognition in Japan
Currently, LGTBQ+ rights in Japan are varied. While LGTBQ+ people aren’t specifically targeted and repressed under the law, such as in Saudi Arabia, they aren’t given the same privileges and rights as hetero couples. Prominent examples include the struggle same-sex couples face to be granted medical visitation rights, the ability to make medical decisions for unconscious partners, co-parenting rights, and spousal income tax deductions.
All of this was brought up by Judge Takebe Tomoko Wednesday morning, who admonished the government for not offering “even a degree” of marital benefits to same-sex couples. Local municipalities have tried to rectify the situation by issuing “partnership certificates” to same-sex couples, which grant some of these rights. However, without a national policy, the rights are limited and can often be ignored by institutions.
Despite the drawbacks and ultimately limited nature of the win, activists have still hailed it as a massive victory for LGBTQ+ people in the nation not only because it backs up their right to marry and maintain the same rights as heterosexual individuals, but also because it draws more awareness and gives momentum to a movement that has slowly been gaining ground in the traditionally conservative country.
See What Others Are Saying: (Japan Times) (Kyodo News) (NPR)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.