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Japanese Court Rules Same-Sex Marriage Restrictions Unconstitutional

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  • 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)

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China Cautiously Crawls Out of Zero COVID Policy

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Estimates put the number of people who will die if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.


People Go Back to Bars

The Chinese government has begun to ease some of its notoriously strict pandemic lockdown measures, signaling that the end of the “zero-COVID” policy may be on the horizon.

On Monday, commuters in Beijing and at least 16 other cities were allowed to board buses and subways without a virus test in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months.

In Shanghai, visitors to most sites will require a negative test within the last week, rather than the last two days, though schools, hospitals, and bars will require one within the past 48 hours.

Dining in restaurants in some parts of Beijing is still prohibited, but bars and restaurants in many areas of the country are reopening.

In Urumqi, where anti-lockdown protests erupted late last month after an apartment fire killed 10 people, authorities said in a statement Monday that malls, markets, and other venues will reopen.

Zhengzhou, the central city home to the world’s largest iPhone plant which was last month rocked by violent unrest, will no longer require COVID test results for public transport, taxis, and visits to “public areas”, authorities said in a Sunday statement.

Beijing authorities had required registration to purchase fever, cough, and soar throat medicine, which they believed people were using to hide their coronavirus infections, but that mandate has been lifted. Certain districts in the capital also announced that some residents may self-isolate inside their homes rather than being forced to quarantine in a centralized facility.

Is China Ready to Reopen?

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said last week that the country’s health system had withstood the test of the virus and that the omicron subvariant is less deadly than previous strains.

But there has not been a significant drop in cases recently to prompt the easing of restrictions. On Monday, the government reported 30,014 new cases, down from last week’s peak of over 40,000 but still near record highs for China.

Some observers speculate that the government’s move was related to the recent protests, in which thousands of people poured onto the streets of several major cities to demand freedom and an end to the zero-COVID policy. Authorities cracked down on demonstrators, and any mention of the protests was rigorously censored on Chinese social media.

There was no sign of any significant unrest this weekend.

Although many people are excited to enjoy less restricted lives and restart a shuddered economy, others are concerned about the public health consequences reopening society could incur. Estimates put the number of people who will die from the coronavirus if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.

Last week, the government launched a campaign to vaccinate the elderly population.

Only about 40% of people over the age of 80 have gotten their booster shot, according to official statistics.

Health experts and economists say vaccination rates and ICU preparedness won’t be sufficient to fully end the zero-COVID policy until mid-2023 or 2024.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People

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The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.


Bridge Collapses

After seven months of renovations, the Morbi walking bridge in India opened to the public. Four days later, the bridge collapsed, killing more than 130 people. 

According to the local government, there were about 200 people on the bridge when it collapsed on Sunday, despite its capacity of 125. 

During a campaign event on Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the state government had set up a committee to investigate the tragedy.

“I assure the people of the country that there will be nothing lacking in the relief and rescue efforts,” he stated.

Along with the investigation, the state has launched a criminal complaint against Oreva Group, the company responsible for maintaining the bridge. Oreva Group reopened the bridge after renovations without getting a safety certificate from the government. 

Shifting Blame

In response, Oreva Group spoke to a local news outlet and blamed those on the bridge for its collapse.

“While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” the group claimed.

The state government has offered compensation for the families of the deceased, but that is not enough for some. One father whose wife and two children died in the collapse told VICE he wants answers and accountability.

“Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.

Indian police have arrested nine people including ticketing clerks and security guards for failing to regulate the crowd, according to Reuters. 

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (VICE) (CNN)

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Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals

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Despite the staggering power grab, Xi faces geopolitical competition from abroad as well as social and economic instability at home.


Xi Surrounds Himself With Allies

Chinese President Xi Jinping shook up politics over the weekend when he revealed the government’s new leadership, almost exclusively composed of his own hardline loyalists.

Six men — Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi — will form the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body.

The four new members are all Xi loyalists, pushing out Premier Li Keqiang and the head of China’s top advisory body Wang Yang, two key party figures outside Xi’s inner circle who retired despite being eligible to serve another term.

For the first time in a quarter-century, China’s 24-member Politburo will be made up entirely of men, underlining the exclusion of women from Chinese politics.

An official account of the selection process said that a top criterion for leadership was loyalty to Xi, and rising officials must stay in lockstep with him “in thinking, politics and action.”

Topping off the developments, Xi officially secured an unprecedented third term as leader, something that was only made possible in 2018 when the government abolished term limits on the presidency. The weekend marked China’s greatest consolidation of political power in a single figure in decades.

As the 20th Communist Party Congress came to a close Saturday, China’s former leader Hu Jintao appeared reluctant as he was suddenly and inexplicably escorted from his seat next to Xi out of the Great Hall of the People.

Some commentators have argued that a tightly knit band of yes men may help Xi fend off internal party dissent, but it could ultimately result in poor governance as his subordinates fear giving him bad news.

The Arc of History Bends Toward China

Despite the extreme concentration of political power, China’s Communist Party stares down a gauntlet of challenges both foreign and domestic.

Beijing remains locked in a strategic competition with Washington, which has sought to contain the East Asian rival’s rise as a global superpower, but the past week’s congress may portend a stubbornly defiant China for years to come.

Xi is expected to use his firmly secure position within the party to pursue his agenda in full force — by strengthening Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, expanding China’s economic foothold in developing countries, and achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies such as semiconductors.

At home, China’s economy has faltered during the pandemic, with high unemployment, low consumption, and slow economic growth putting pressure on a government that stakes much of its legitimacy on promises to deliver prosperity to the population. Between July and September, the country’s GDP grew by 3.9%, according to official data released Monday, which is above many analysts’ expectations but still far below the state’s target of around 5.5%.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics postponed the data’s publication last week ahead of the 20th party congress, reinforcing concerns that Xi’s leadership will put politics before economics.

Monday’s announcement roiled stock markets, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index plunging 6%, as well as the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Composite Index both falling by about 2%.

Beijing has also seen increased political resistance from the population, from anti-lockdown protests in Shanghai to widespread mortgage boycotts over delays from real estate developers.

Last week, a man unfurled two large banners from an overpass in Beijing and called President Xi a “dictator” through a megaphone.

Such small-scale demonstrations are not new, but they took place in the capital just before the congress drew enough attention for photos of the stunt to go viral on social media, where an equally swift censorship campaign stamped out any mention of it.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)

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