In landmark ruling, Japan court says it is ‘unconstitutional’ to bar same-sex marriage

By Elaine Lies and Rikako Maruyama

TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese court ruled on Wednesday that not allowing same-sex couples to get married is “unconstitutional,” setting a precedent in the only G7 nation not to fully recognize same-sex partnership.

The ruling by a district court, the first in Japan on the legality of same-sex marriages, is a major symbolic victory in a country where the constitution still defines marriage as being based on “the mutual consent of both sexes.”

Following the ruling, plaintiffs and supporters unfurled rainbow flags and banners in front of the court.

While a new law will be needed before same-sex marriages can actually take place – which could take some time in socially conservative Japan – the plaintiffs’ lawyer called the ruling “revolutionary,” while LGBT activists deemed it life-changing.

“Its value is absolutely measureless,” said 44-year old Gon Matsunaka, director of activist group Marriage for All Japan and representative of Pride House Tokyo.

“Until the ruling was announced, we didn’t know this was what we’d get and I’m just overjoyed.”

While Japanese law is considered relatively liberal by Asian standards, social attitudes have kept the LGBT community largely invisible in the world’s third largest economy. Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriages in 2019.

Under the current rules in Japan, same-sex couples are not allowed to legally marry, can’t inherit their partner’s assets – such as the house they may have shared – and also have no parental rights over their partners’ children.

Though partnership certificates issued by individual municipalities help same-sex couples to rent a place together and have hospital visitation rights, they still don’t give them the same full legal rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

“Sexual orientation cannot be changed or selected by a person’s will,” the ruling said. “It is discriminatory treatment … that they cannot receive even some of the legal benefits that heterosexuals do.”

The Sapporo District Court threw out the demand for damages by the six plaintiffs – two couples of men and one of women – who had asked that the Japanese government pay 1 million yen ($9,168.42) each in acknowledgment of the pain they suffered by not being able to legally marry.

But Takeharu Kato, the lawyer of the plaintiffs, called the verdict overall “revolutionary,” while urging parliament to quickly start working on a law to make same-sex marriage possible.

“We praise this ruling for taking in the plaintiffs’ earnest appeals,” the lawyer told a news conference.

SAME JOYS, SAME PROBLEMS

Similar cases are currently being heard in four other courts around Japan and this ruling may indirectly influence their outcome.

“Only because the gender of the person we love is different, we can’t get married. We live the same lives as heterosexuals, have the same troubles and the same joys,” said one of the plaintiffs, a woman known only as “E.”

“Though our lives are exactly the same, the nation wouldn’t recognize this.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference he had not read the ruling in detail but that the government would “carefully watch” the outcomes of the other court cases.

While homosexual sex has been legal in Japan since 1880, social stigma means many have yet to come out even to their families. The Japanese ruling also came just days after the Vatican said priests cannot bless same-sex unions.

Some in the business world say Japanese rules not allowing same-sex marriage hurt the country’s competitive advantage, by making it difficult for companies, especially foreign companies, to attract and keep highly-skilled labor in an increasingly international economy.

Tokyo residents also welcomed the ruling, saying it was about time things changed.

“Japan has always been conservative, but these days things are becoming more open,” said 60-year old dentist Kyoko Enomoto. “I think it will open up a lot more from now on.”

(Additional reporting by Akira Tomoshige and Daniel Leussink; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

As Syrian couples say ‘I do,’ Lebanon says ‘No, not quite’

A Syrian refugee woman holds a child in Ain Baal village, near Tyre in southern Lebanon, November 27, 2017. Picture taken November 27, 2017.

By Sarah Dadouch

BEKAA, Lebanon (Reuters) – In a tent in Lebanon surrounded by snow, Syrian refugees Ammar and Khadija were married by a tribal leader from their homeland in a wedding they would soon come to regret.

What they had hoped would be a milestone on the path back to normal life became the start of a bureaucratic nightmare.

One year on, it shows no sign of ending for them, their newly born son or for many other refugees from Syria, whose misery at losing their homes has been compounded by a new fear they may never be able to return.

It is a dilemma with knock-on effects for stability in Lebanon, sheltering more than a million Syrian refugees, and potentially for other countries in the Middle East and Europe they may flee to if tension spills over.

After they had agreed their union with the sheikh in the insulated tent that had become home to Khadija’s family, the newlyweds both spent months digging potatoes in the Bekaa valley, one of Lebanon’s poorest districts, to make ends meet.

Only after they had a baby boy, Khalaf, did they realize the wedding had been a mistake.

When the couple went to register his birth at the local registry, they were told they could not because they had no official marriage certificate.

Without registration, Khalaf is not entitled to a Syrian passport or other ID enabling him to go there. Without proper paperwork, he also risks future detention in Lebanon.

Asked why they did not get married by an approved religious authority, Ammar and Khadija looked at each other before answering: “We didn’t know.”

CATCH 22

Laws and legislation seem very remote from the informal settlements in the northern Bekaa Valley, where Syrian refugee tents sit on the rocky ground amongst rural tobacco fields. Marriages by unregistered sheikhs are common but hard to quantify because authorities often never hear of them.

For whereas in Syria, verbal tribal or religious marriages are easy to register, Lebanon has complex and costly procedures.

You first need to be married by a sheikh approved by one of the various religious courts that deal with family matters, who gives you a contract. Then you have to get a marriage certificate from a local notary, transfer it to the local civil registry and register it at the Foreigners’ Registry.

Most Syrians do not complete the process, as it requires legal residency in the country, which must be renewed annually and costs $200, although the fee was waived for some refugees this year. Now they have had a child, Ammar and Khadija also need to go through an expensive court case.

The casual work Ammar depends on — picking potatoes, onions or cucumbers in five hour shifts starting at 6 am — pays 6,000 LBP ($4) a day, not enough to live on, let alone put aside.

“One bag of diapers costs 10,000 liras,” he said.

Sally Abi Khalil, Country Director in Lebanon for UK-based charity Oxfam, said 80 percent of Syrian refugees do not have valid residency, one of the main reasons why they do not register their marriages, alongside the issue of the sheikhs.

“Babies born to couples who didn’t register their marriage risk becoming stateless,” she said.

Refugees can only legally make money if they have a work permit, which requires legal residency, a Catch 22 situation partially tackled in February when the fee was waived for those registered with the UNHCR prior to 2015 and without a previous Lebanese sponsor.

Lebanon’s Directorate General of Personal Status took another step to help the refugees on September 12, when it issued a memo which waived the parents’ and child’s residency prerequisite for birth registration, it said.

But if you are married by an unauthorized sheikh, which includes all Syrian sheikhs, the process is more complicated, made worse by a clock ticking over the fate of your offspring, whose birth has to be registered within a year.

“In registering marriages, the biggest problem we faced was the sheikh,” said Rajeh, a Syrian refugee, speaking for his community in a village in southern Lebanon. “In Syria, the child would be ten years old and you can register him in one day.”

POLITICAL PRESSURE

If the one-year deadline is missed in Lebanon, parents have to open a civil court case estimated to cost more than one hundred dollars and still requiring legal residency, which Ammar and Khadija, who met in the informal settlement, do not have.

Legal residency becomes a requirement in Lebanon at the age of 15. At that point, many Syrians pull their children from school and do not let them stray far from the house or neighborhood for fear they will be stopped and detained.

More than half of those who escaped the Syrian conflict that began in 2011 are under 18 years old, and around one in six are babies and toddlers, said Tina Gewis, a legal specialist from the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Politicians pressured by some Lebanese saying the country has carried too much of the burden of the refugee crisis are pushing harder for the return of the displaced to Syria, raising the stakes since documentation is required for repatriation.

If they have used an unauthorized sheikh, couples are encouraged to redo their marriages, said Sheikh Wassim Yousef al-Falah, Beirut’s sharia (Islamic law) judge, who said the court’s case load had tripled with the influx of Syrian refugees.

But that is not an option for Ammar and Khadija because a pregnancy or the birth of a child rules that option out.

Gewis said that in any case new marriages risked complicating future inheritance or other legal issues and costs were prohibitive, with courts charging up to $110 to register even straightforward marriages by an approved sheikh.

Ziad al Sayegh, a senior advisor in Lebanon’s newly-formed Ministry of State for Displaced Affairs said Beirut was keen to help the refugees overcome their difficulties.

“We don’t want them to be stateless, because if you’re stateless you have a legal problem that will affect the child and affect the host country,” he said.

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Taiwan court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, first in Asia

Supporters take part in a rally ahead of Taiwan's top court ruling on same-sex marriage case which will decide whether it will become the first place in Asia to recognise same-sex marriage, in Taipei, Taiwan May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By J.R. Wu

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s constitutional court declared on Wednesday that same-sex couples have the right to legally marry, the first such ruling in Asia, sparking celebration by activists who have been campaigning for the right for years.

The court, known as the Judicial Yuan, said current marriage laws were “in violation of both the people’s freedom of marriage … and the people’s right to equality”, and it gave two years for legal amendments to allow same-sex marriage.

“If relevant laws are not amended or enacted within the said two years, two persons of the same sex who intend to create the said permanent union shall be allowed to have their marriage registration effectuated,” the court said.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights activists had harbored high hopes their years of campaigning for same-sex marriage would win the court’s backing.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party that swept national elections in the self-ruled island last year supported the change.

Hundreds of supporters of same-sex marriage gathered in the street next to the island’s parliament to celebrate the decision, holding colorful umbrellas to ward off a drizzle.

“This ruling has made me very happy,” said Chi Chia-wei, a veteran gay rights activist who had petitioned the court to take up the issue.

The ruling clearing the way for same-sex marriage is the first in Asia, where socially conservative attitudes largely hold sway.

Graphic on countries and regions that allow same-sex marriage: http://tmsnrt.rs/2rg66SW

A lawyer said the ruling made clear that same-sex couples had the same marriage rights as opposite-sex couples.

“This is a clear victory for equal rights in marriage and it is also a victory for all the people,” said Victoria Hsu, the lead lawyer supporting Chi’s case.

Taiwan has a reputation as a beacon of liberalism in the region.

“Sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic that is resistant to change,” the court said in its ruling.

“Furthermore, the freedom of marriage for two persons of the same sex, once legally recognized, will constitute the collective basis, together with opposite-sex marriage, for a stable society,” it said.

Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province, has a celebrated annual gay pride parade that showcases the vibrancy of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

(Reporting by J.R. Wu; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Judge blocks Mississippi law allowing denial of services to LGBT people

Rainbow flag flying next to rainbow in the sky

(Reuters) – A day before it was due to come into effect, a federal judge has blocked a Mississippi law permitting those with religious objections to deny wedding services to same-sex couples and impose dress and bathroom restrictions on transgender people.

Mississippi is among a handful of southern U.S. states on the front lines of legal battles over equality, privacy and religious freedom after the U.S. Supreme Court last year legalized same-sex marriage.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves found on Thursday the wide-ranging law adopted this spring unconstitutionally discriminated against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and others who do not share the view that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Reeves issued an injunction blocking the law that was to take effect on Friday.

He agreed with opponents of the law who argued that it violated the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on making laws that establish religion.

Mississippi’s “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” shields those believing that marriage involves a man and a woman, and sexual relations should occur within such marriages. It protects the belief that gender is defined by sex at birth.

The law allows people to refuse to provide wide-ranging services by citing the religious grounds, from baking a wedding cake for a same-sex couple to counseling and fertility services. It would also permit dress code and bathroom restrictions to be imposed on transgender people.

The law “does not honor that tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens,” Reeves wrote in his decision.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, in April signed the measure into law. The state has defended it as a reasonable accommodation intended to protect businesses and individuals seeking to exercise their religious views.

His staff was unavailable for comment early on Friday.

Critics say the Mississippi law is so broad that it could apply to nearly anyone in a sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage, including single mothers. Several lawsuits have challenged various aspects of the law.

Earlier this week, Reeves addressed a provision allowing clerks to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples based on religious beliefs, saying they had to fulfill their duties under the Supreme Court ruling.

His ruling on Thursday came after religious leaders, including an Episcopal vicar and a Jewish rabbi, last week testified in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi that the law did not reflect their religious views. He also heard about its harmful potential from members of the gay community.

“I am grateful that the court has blocked this divisive law. As a member of the LGBT community and as minister of the Gospel, I am thankful that justice prevailed,” said Rev. Susan Hrostowski, an Episcopal priest who is a plaintiff in the case.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Dr. Gary Smalley, Champion to Marriage and Family Passes on to Heaven

“Life is relationships; the rest is just details.”   Gary Smalley

The PTL Television Network, Jim Bakker Show, the Bakker family and all of us here at Morningside are praying today for the friends and family of a wonderful man, Dr. Gary Smalley who passed into heaven over the weekend in Colorado Springs, Colorado.    

Dr. Smalley devoted his professional life to guiding others in repairing marriages that were all but broken.  He and his beautiful wife Norma began an organization devoted to families and to the intimate and heartfelt ministry of developing good and solid marriages in 1979.  Their organization eventually evolved into retreat centers in 10 different cities.

Gary’s heart was to educate and inspire couples to love better and last a life-time!  But, even with the thousands of couples that he has helped through his retreat centers, counseling, speaking engagements and books, he spoke proudest of his two wonderful sons, Greg and Mike, his beautiful daughter Kari, and the amazing families they are raising. Every single day, there was never a doubt that he was completely aware of the love and blessings he had with the light of his life, his wife Norma.

Gary Smalley became one of the country’s best-known authors and speakers on family relationships. He is the author and co-author of 60 books along with several popular films and videos. He has spent over 35 years learning, teaching, and counseling. In a heartfelt post on facebook a friend wrote these words,  

“For the zillions profoundly impacted by Gary & Norma Smalley’s ministry and all those who have resurrected & salvaged dead-end relationships…and for those who just want to know how to do relationships right….this will be a loss heard around the world for decades to come.”

According to a post by his daughter on her facebook page, Dr. Smalley’s last days were spent surrounded by his loving family. The last words spoken over him were “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;”  Numbers 6:24-25

According to an article in Christian News Today, a celebration of life will take place Saturday, March 19 at 3:00 p.m. at College of the Ozarks Chapel in Point Lookout, Missouri. It will be open to the public for all who wish to honor Smalley’s life and legacy.

Our hearts and prayers are with Dr. Smalley’s family and friends but we also feel the joy of knowing that he is where love begins and ends, held within God’s loving arms.  

 

Pope Francis Visits Washington D.C., Meets with President Obama

People were lining the streets to get a glimpse of Pope Francis as he made his way to the White House to discuss politics with President Obama and 11,000 ticketed guests at the welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn.

Pope Francis directly addressed the American people on topics such as climate change, Cuba, marriage, and immigration.

The Pope praised President Obama on his work for a cleaner Earth, specifically on the initiative for reducing air pollution. The two leaders also agreed that it was time to reconcile with Cuba.

Pope Francis then went on to discuss the importance of traditional values when it came to the institution of marriage and families. He stated that American Catholics were “concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society, respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions.”

While the Pope did briefly mention immigration, he did not address the full political issue, leaving many to believe that he may give his opinion on the issue later during his visit.

Pope Francis then addressed one of the issues that is a central theme to his papacy. He discussed how the global economy is making few people very rich, but at the expense of the many.

“I would like all men and women of goodwill in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development,” Francis said.

When the Pope first entered the White House, President Obama warmly welcomed Pope Francis to the United States.

“In your humility, your embrace of simplicity, in the gentleness of your words and the generosity of your spirit,” Obama told the pope, “we see a living example of Jesus’ teachings, a leader whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds.”

The Pope’s visit to the White House is just the beginning for today’s activities. Pope Francis will also be in two parades, a midday prayer with Catholic bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and the canonization of an 18th century missionary.

Pope: Divorce Can Be Morally Necessary

The head of the Catholic Church says that divorce can be morally necessary in certain situations.

“There are cases in which separation is inevitable. Sometimes it can become even morally necessary, precisely when it comes to subtracting the weaker spouse, or small children, from more serious injuries caused by arrogance and violence, by humiliation and exploitation, and by indifference,” the pope said according to the New York Post.

The Pope has been focusing on family issues as he prepares for an October synod (or meeting of bishops) to talk about the family.  One of the issues that will be discussed is divorced Catholics who remarry without going through the church process.

One of the points of contention is expected to revolve around giving communion to divorcees.  Currently they are banned from communion because the church says marrying another person is a sin.

The Pope also appeared to be reaching out to those in situations where a spouse or parent is abusive.

“Around us we find several families in so-called irregular — I don’t like this word — situations, and we pose ourselves many questions. How can we help them? How can we support them? How can we support them so that children do not become hostages of their father or mother?” the pope said.

Russell Moore, Rick Warren Join Pope’s “Interfaith Conference”

Two major evangelical Christian leaders have accepted invitations from Pope Francis to take part in a worldwide “interfaith conference on marriage and family.”

In addition to Catholics and Christians, the “Complementarity of Man and Woman” conference will feature leaders from Judiasm, Islam, Hinduism and multiple other faiths.

Moore, a driving force in the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote on his website that he is attending because he will take the true gospel of Christ anywhere that he’s invited and he hopes to be able to reaffirm the true definition of marriage.

“I hope that this gathering of religious leaders can stand in solidarity on the common grace, creational mandate of marriage and family as necessary for human flourishing and social good,” Moore wrote.  “I also hope that we can learn from one another about where these matters stand around the world.”

Warren and others who have reached out to the Catholic Church have received criticism that they are ignoring the truth of the Gospel the conflicts with parts of Roman Catholic teachings.

New York Court Rules Marriage Valid Between Uncle and Niece

The New York Court of Appeals has ruled that a marriage between an uncle and niece is not a violation of restrictions against incestuous marriage.

The court ruled that “parent-child and brother-sister marriages . . . are grounded in the almost universal horror with which such marriages are viewed . . . there is no comparably strong objection to uncle-niece marriages.”

The case focused on a Vietnamese citizen who married her uncle in what the government said was an illegal marriage in an attempt to not be deported.  A judge in 2000 ruled the marriage invalid and ordered deportation.

The husband in the case was the half-brother of the girl’s mother.

“This really was an all-or-nothing issue for them,” lawyer Michael Marscalkowski commented. “If this would have been denied, she would have been deported and sent back to Vietnam.”

The lawyer argued that because they were only half-siblings, they only had at maximum 1/8th of the DNA like cousins, who are allowed to legally marry.

Marriages Get Tuned Up On Grace Street

One of the biggest ways that Satan likes to attack and tear down Christians is to come between a husband and wife.  That’s why part of this year’s Fourth of July festivities included a visit and talk from a counselor who focuses on helping Christians keep their marriages alive and healthy.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Ryan Pannell of Woodland Hills Counseling Center talked about the aspects of marriage that so many people forget when they feel the rush of love and dive in.

He shared one of his desires when conducting a wedding.  He would make the bride and groom both carry large backpacks full of rocks.  They could place them down during the “I dos” but have to pick them up again when they walk up the aisle together.  He said it would be a good reminder that the joy of the marriage day doesn’t get rid of your baggage and issues and that you’ll continue to have issues after the wedding day.

Pannell spoke of the ways that we justify in our minds the actions we take but always assign ulterior motives to the actions of others including our spouse.  He said casting those assertions puts us in a place where hostility can fester between spouses for slights that may not even exist.

He said that when couples work together to strengthen their marriage, to overcome adversity, to join together to show the fruits of the spirit, then God is glorified to all.  He said that is a goal for all marriages.

The heart, Pannell said, is a key to God.   The word heart shows up in the Bible over 700 times and Ryan believes that’s God’s way of showing how much our heart means to Him.  How we need to make sure that He is number one in our hearts because that’s the only way we can truly be right for our spouses.

He reminded everyone of the promise of Psalm 139:14:  That we all are fearfully and wonderfully made.