Tokyo recognizes same-sex relationships

Tokyo recognizes same-sex relationships


Tokyo on Tuesday began issuing civil partnership certificates to same-sex couples living and working in the capital, a long-awaited move in a country with no marriage equality.

The certificates allow LGBTQ partners to be treated as married couples for some public services in areas such as housing, medicine and social assistance.

More than 200 smaller local authorities in Japan have already taken steps to recognize same-sex partnerships since Tokyo’s Shibuya district introduced the system in 2015.

The status doesn’t carry the same rights as marriage under the law, but represents a welcome change for couples like Miki and Katie, who have long had no official proof of their relationship.

“My biggest fear was that in an emergency we would be treated like strangers,” Miki told AFP at home in Tokyo, where photos of the 36-year-old Japanese woman with her American friend Katie, 31, adorn the fridge.

Without a partnership certificate, the couple, who wanted to be addressed by their first names, used to put a piece of paper with the contact details of the other in their wallets.

“But these were minor and we felt that official documents, notarized by the local government, would be more effective,” Miki said as her gray and white cat frolicked in a rainbow tie.

As of Friday morning, 137 couples had applied for a certificate, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said last week.

Hopes are high that the introduction of same-sex partnership certificates, covering both Tokyo residents and commuters, will help combat anti-LGBTQ discrimination in Japan.

“As more people use these dating systems, our community will feel more empowered to tell family and friends about their relationships” without “hiding their true selves,” Miki said.

– ‘More flexible’ –

In recent years, Japan — led by a conservative ruling party that champions traditional family values ??– has taken small steps toward embracing sexual diversity.

More companies are now proclaiming their support for same-sex marriage, and gay characters are appearing on television shows with greater openness.

A 2021 poll by public broadcaster NHK found that 57 percent of the public were in favor of gay marriage, versus 37 percent against.

But hurdles remain, as an Osaka court ruled in June that the country’s failure to recognize same-sex partnerships was constitutional.

This marked a setback for activists after a landmark ruling by a Sapporo court last year that said the current situation violated Japan’s constitutionally guaranteed right to equal rights.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been wary of the possibility of legislative changes that would recognize same-sex partnerships nationally.

Meanwhile, Noboru Watanabe, a local MP for Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, came under fire last month for calling same-sex marriages “disgusting.”

“Some politicians have made really negative comments, like that we have a mental illness,” Katie told AFP.

But “families don’t always consist of a mother, a father and two children. We should be more flexible,” she said.

Miki and Katie threw a wedding party last month, but despite their excitement at the introduction of the new system, they recognize its limitations.

Inheritance rights in the event of a partner’s death are still not guaranteed, while Katie’s lack of spousal visa status makes her ability to remain in Japan less stable.

“I feel like the Japanese have a high enough understanding of same-sex marriage now,” Miki said.

“All that’s left is for politicians to take it seriously and make changes.”

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