Tokyo began issuing partnership certificates that recognize same-sex couples on Tuesday, a step toward equality in a country where same-sex marriage is still not legally sanctioned.
The certificate allows same-sex couples to be treated the same as married couples when making use of certain public services, such as housing, access to medical data and welfare. As of late last week, the government had received 137 certificate applications through the Tokyo Metropolitan Partnership Oath System.
A page on the Toyko Metropolitan Government Human Rights Division website says the system will make it possible for people in partnerships with sexual minorities to take advantage of certain new services, like applying to move into metropolitan housing, according to an automated translation provided by Google.
The move comes seven years after Tokyo’s Shibuya district first introduced same-sex partnership recognition.
During a press conference Tuesday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Fumino Sugiyama, who is a transgender man, said this partnership system is a huge step forward. He noted that he and his partner’s union was not legally recognized prior to the partnership system.
But partnership certificates are not the same as marriage certificates, and they don’t provide same-sex couples the same rights as married couples. Japan doesn’t criminalize homosexuality, but it’s far behind some other nations on the issue of LGBTQ equality, and is the only Group of Seven country that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.
Lawsuits involving the legal protection of same-sex couples in Japan began in 2019. Last year, the Sapporo District Court found the country’s ban on same-sex marriage to be a violation of Japan’s Constitution, saying that the legal benefits of marriage should apply to heterosexual and homosexual marriages alike.
A leaflet from Marriage For All Japan, an organization pushing for LGBTQ marriage equality, argues that “not allowing two individuals of the same legal gender to marry infringes on the dignity of the individual and equality, both of which are protected under the constitution, and is a human rights violation.”
But the Osaka Court ruled in June that the country’s ban is constitutional because freedom of marriage only applies to heterosexual marriages.
The LGBTQ community faces significant barriers that can be solved through the legalization of same-sex marriage, argues Marriage For All Japan. For example, when a same-sex couple raise children, only one person can legally be the parent.
Soyoka Yamamoto, a representative of the Partnership Act — a group that campaigned for Tokyo to recognize same-sex couples — said during the press conference that she’s happy about the launch of the partnership system, but emphasized that the momentum can’t stop here.
“Let this system serve as a catalyst to spearhead efforts to achieve a society where the rights of sexual minorities are equally protected here in Japan and around the world,” she said.