It’s a boost for the LGBTQ+ community after Tokyo announced that it would start recognizing same-sex partnerships. Reports from Japan’s capital indicate that this decision was arrived at to ease the lives of the residents who continued to face burdens due to their identity. While the unions will not yet be recognized as legal marriages, they provide much relief for the LGBTQ+ community.
Although Japan supports sexual diversity, there’s no legal protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Currently, same-sex marriages are not permitted in Japan, and the LGBTQ+ community continues to face discrimination at the workplace, school, and home. As a result, many don’t come out, and for those who do, their rights are violated.
Allowing Same-Sex Partnerships is a Win for LGBTQ+ People and Rights Groups
Rights groups have been pushing for the passage of an equality act in Japan. Some quarters wanted it to be passed before last summer’s Tokyo Olympics when the world’s attention focused on Japan, although the governing party quashed the bill.
Japan is the only nation of the G7 that does not recognize same-sex partnerships. According to Japan’s constitution, “marriage shall be only with the mutual consent of both sexes.”
In recent years, local authorities across Japan have started to recognize same-sex unions, although such recognition does involve the same rights as constitutional marriage.
As such, the draft plan presented by the Tokyo metropolitan government aims at accepting registrations from sexual-minority couples who need certificates for their partnerships. This is a massive win for same-sex couples who face discrimination when visiting hospitals, renting apartments, and seeking other services as a couple.
A Draft Amendment to be Submitted to Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in June
Tokyo plans to enact the policy in November. To achieve this, a draft amendment on human rights, including references to the partnership system, will be presented to the Tokyo metropolitan assembly in June.
In legal terms, marriage between LGBTQ+ people is not permitted in Japan, although local governments and many prefectural issue non-legal certifications that recognize sexual minority couples.
Tokyo is set to join eight other Japanese prefectures to introduce this partnership. Others include Gunma, Osaka, Aomori, Akita, Fukuoka, Ibaraki, Mie, and Saga.
According to officials, this draft (an updated version of one released earlier) provides eligibility to couples who plan to visit the capital within three months. The best part is that the system will not be limited to Japanese only—non-Japanese who meet the requirements will be eligible.
However, to become eligible for the “Tokyo Partnership Oath System,” one of the partners has to be a sexual minority and work or reside in Tokyo. Both partners need to be of legal age.
Officials also say that the new system may also allow same-sex couples to consent for their partners to undergo surgery and apply for municipal housing. The metropolitan government will provide an online portal where people can use and receive their partnership certificates for privacy concerns. Couples will get their certifications within ten days after application. Couples with children will also be allowed to include the children’s names on certificates.
Decision Arrived After Extensive Public Participation
This is not a decision that just came out of nowhere. The Tokyo metropolitan government collected opinions from the public for around two months. From these opinions, it was clear that same-sex couples needed to be recognized as partners and enjoy rights just like other couples. The metropolitan government received about 8,300 comments in the last two months as it gathered public opinions.
All eyes will be on the legislators once the draft is presented to the assembly in June. If legislators approve revising the local ordinance, the metropolitan government will start receiving applications from same-sex couples. Issuing of certificates shall begin in November.
The Journey Started Back in 2015
Shibuya, a Tokyo ward, became the first to approve same-sex unions in 2015, making history as first Japan to promote a sense of marriage equality. The local assembly approved the ordinance and permitted same-sex couples to apply for certificates. This was an essential step in a country where same-sex marriages are illegal in civil law.
While this legislation does not recognize same-sex partnerships as different from “normal” marriages, it includes measures to ensure that same-sex partnerships get a similar status as marriage regarding social security, tax benefits, and joint property ownership.
This decision was welcomed and celebrated by human and gay rights advocates and politicians who supported the issues. However, the Japanese government and conservative camps did not welcome the decision.
2017 Landmark Ruling Said Barring Same-Sex Partnerships “Unconstitutional”
A 2017 ruling by the district court stated it was “unconstitutional” not to allow same-sex couples to get married. This ruling set a precedent for this Asian country that recognizes marriages based on the mutual consent of both sexes.
The LGBTQ+ people, supporters, and plaintiffs unfurled rainbow flags and banners following the ruling. This was a revolutionary and life-changing ruling for the LGBT community in Japan. While Japan is considered liberal as per Asian standards, the LGBT people have remained largely invisible in this G7 country. Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage in 2019.