On Tuesday, the Tokyo metropolitan government revealed its draft of a new registration system that would recognize same-sex partnerships.
The news comes after Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s promise at the end of last year that the capital’s government would start a system that allowed same-sex couples access to many of the benefits under marriage, including hospital visitation rights and the ability to rent apartments together. With the enactment of the policy, due to take effect in November, Tokyo joins the eight other prefectures that have already introduced some form of same-sex partnership system, including Aomori, Akita, Ibaraki, Gunma, Mie, Osaka, Fukuoka and Saga. The Tokyo wards of Shibuya and Setagaya were the first to begin a system back in 2015, and the city of Sapporo was the first major city to recognize same-sex relationships in 2017.
The certifications that will serve as proof of partnership will remain distinct from a marriage license in that some rights, including tax breaks and benefits, will remain exclusive to heterosexual couples.
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The statement release described the purpose of the new system as a way “to promote understanding among Tokyo residents about sexual diversity and to reduce inconveniences in daily lives surrounding sexual minorities in order to create more pleasant living conditions for them.” Eligibility requirements include being over the age of 18 and having at least one partner be a resident of the capital, whether for work or school. Even while the majority of the Japanese public is in favor of same-sex marriage, as reported by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, with 41% of those surveyed saying gay marriage should be approved, Japan’s conservative party holds the majority power in parliament.
Japan remains the only member of the Group of Seven (G7) – an assembly of the world’s most industrialized economies – to not allow same-sex marriage.
Advocates for sexual equality strongly pushed for same-sex marriage legislation at the time Tokyo was scheduled to host the Summer 2020 Olympics; however, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party shot down the bill.
In a landmark ruling last year, Japan’s Sapporo District Court ruled that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
The court explained that sexuality, as with race and gender, was not a matter of preference, and therefore same-sex couples should be allowed the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
Despite the historic ruling, it did not produce any form of concrete legal rights for Japan’s LGBTQ-plus population, and even with the expected implementation of the partnership system in a few months, human rights groups agree that the country has a long way to go to protect the rights and interests of its sexual minorities.