Tokyo Set to Begin Recognizing Same-Sex Partnerships

Japan’s capital plans to introduce same-sex partnerships in April, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said, a significant shift for the country’s biggest population center.

“From the point of view of advancing understanding of sexual diversity, as well as reducing the problems faced by those involved, we will lay out basic principles for introducing a same-sex partnership system in the next fiscal year,” Koike told an assembly meeting Tuesday.

However, she did not provide details about the proposal which will recognise same-sex relationships but give them legal status. Given that many other smaller areas have taken similar steps in recent years, Tokyo’s move will mean about half the population lives in places with measures to recognize such partnerships.
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Surveys show that the majority of people support equal marriage rights. However, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (which has been in power for many years) is not enthusiastic about changing. Japan is not the only member of Group Seven to recognise same-sex marriage.

“This is a significant milestone for Japan,” said Masa Yanagisawa, head of Prime Services Japan at Goldman Sachs, who is also on the board of campaign group Marriage For All. “Hopefully, this will have some sort of domino effect on other local governments.”

Nevertheless, Yanagisawa said partnership recognition carries little legal clout and doesn’t resolve issues such as inheritance or access to government services. The country’s uneven coverage is another reason, Yanagisawa said.

The change of the capital might increase pressure on Japan’s national government to implement a single system. However, many international companies see the inequalities between husband and wife as a hindrance to Japan’s efforts to recruit talent. Same-sex partners can have difficulty obtaining visas and renting housing.

Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of Japan, called for caution in the matter ahead of October’s general election. However NHK polled 57% of those surveyed to support same-sex marriages. His party failed to pass a promised bill on the promotion of LGBT understanding ahead of the “diversity” themed Tokyo Olympics this year.

Tokyo’s move comes after a Japanese court in March for the first time ruled that the lack of legal recognition for same-sex marriage violates the constitution. Yanagisawa indicated that the matter will be decided by more courts next year.

According to Human Rights Campaign, Chile was the third country this week to legalize same-sex marriage. Asia’s progress is slowing down, with Taiwan the only country to have recognized equal marriage. Last month, a Thai court refused to grant marriage rights.

—With assistance from Takashi Hirokawa.


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