Tokyo will begin recognizing same-sex partnerships in significant step toward equality

More than 200 municipalities in Japan offer some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples

Tokyo will begin recognizing same-sex partnerships in November, its municipal government announced this week.

A draft proposal unveiled on May 10 would permit two consenting adults over the age of 18 to apply for a certificate recognizing their partnership, as long as one party is a member of a sexual minority group. The option will be open to Tokyo’s 13.9 million residents, as well as people who work in the city. Foreign nationals will also be permitted to apply for the certificates.

Referred to as the “Tokyo Partnership Oath System,” registering as domestic partners will allow same-sex couples to apply for special municipal housing and grant them the power to make medical decisions on behalf of their partner, according to the Japanese media outlet Kyodo News.

Applicants will be able to apply for domestic partnerships beginning in October, shortly before the certificates are formally issued. 

In a statement cited by the Associated Press, Tokyo’s municipal government expressed hope that having this option for same-sex couples would “promote understanding among Tokyo residents about sexual diversity.” Government leaders also called to “reduce inconveniences in daily lives surrounding sexual minorities in order to create more pleasant living conditions for them.” 

The draft proposal must undergo some additional steps before it is formally enacted, however. The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly will review the plan in July as part of amendments to its human rights ordinances, although it’s widely expected to be approved.

More than 200 municipalities in Japan already recognize some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, according to LGBTQ+ advocacy groups. Although same-sex partnerships have yet to receive any form of federal recognition, Japanese citizens are widely supportive of LGBTQ+ rights. A March 2021 poll from the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that 65 percent of respondents supported same-sex marriage.

But while Tokyo’s plan is a significant step forward, it falls short of full marriage equality. It does not address issues like adoption rights, inheritance or many of the other issues same-sex couples may face in their daily lives.

Currently, Japan is the only G7 country—a list that includes Canada, France, Germany and the United States—that does not offer any form of federal relationship recognition to same-sex couples. Italy has recognized civil unions since 2016, but the Vatican has vocally opposed further advances in LGBTQ+ rights, such as a bill abandoned last year that would have mandated enhanced punishments for anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes.

Despite strong support from the Japanese public, the country’s ruling party has yet to address the issue of marriage equality. Last year, a court in Sapporo ruled that it’s unconstitutional for Japan to deny equal relationship recognition to same-sex couples, yet a same-sex marriage bill has yet to meaningfully advance.

 

Last year’s Tokyo Olympics also led to a call from LGBTQ+ rights groups to advance a non-discrimination bill to ensure that queer and trans people would be protected during the games, but that did not come to fruition.

Taiwan is currently the only country in Asia to recognize marriage equality, which was legalized in 2019 following a constitutional court ruling.

Nico Lang

Nico Lang is an award-winning reporter and editor, and former contributing editor at Xtra. Their work has been featured in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Washington Post, Vox, BuzzFeed, Jezebel, The Guardian, Out, The Advocate, and the L.A. Times.

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Politics, Power, News, Marriage Equality, Asia

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