Tokyo opens same-sex partnership system for applications

(Bloomberg) — A same-sex partnership registration system opened for applications in Tokyo on Tuesday, in a symbolic step forward for a country that has lagged behind its peers in embracing diversity.

The system does not provide the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, but has been welcomed by LGBTQ rights groups as a small step forward. Japan is the only major Group of Seven democracy to not allow same-sex marriage or civil unions, despite polls showing the public overwhelmingly favors change.

“The introduction of the system in Tokyo is extremely positive,” said Soshi Matsuoka, head of Fair, an LGBT rights organization in Tokyo. “But partnership is not enough. We basically want a legal marriage.

With its own rapidly aging and shrinking population, the absence of such provisions could hurt Japan’s ability to compete for talent against the dozens of countries that have legalized marriage equality, industry bodies have warned. . Nonetheless, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, urged caution on the issue.

The system is open to couples where at least one partner lives, works or studies in Tokyo, and where both are at least 18 years old and not already married or in a relationship. Applications must be made online and the certification will be available from November 1, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government website.

“What I’ve wanted for so long feels real and I’m happy,” Soyoka Yamamoto, 37, told reporters in tears after she and Yoriko, her partner of 11, submitted their applications online at the a press conference in the center. Tokyo. “We can now be recognized by society as a couple.” The two have planned a family celebration later, she said.

Registered couples would have the right to apply for local public services together, such as social housing in the capital. An online manual explaining the system noted that some private sector companies offer family benefits to employees in same-sex relationships, and services such as family credit cards and mobile phone discounts to customers of those partnerships.

While local government partnership certification systems have already been introduced by dozens of municipalities, including some in the capital, Tokyo represents more than 10% of Japan’s 125 million people, and its policies are having a greater impact. important.

“In terms of deepening understanding and respect for LGBT rights, Tokyo is very influential, so that’s a wonderful thing,” said Hiroshi Ikeda, an activist with Marriage For All Japan. He sees the partnership recognition system as a lever to push the central government forward.

Same-sex couples are often excluded from medical decision-making, have difficulty renting accommodation, and have no inheritance rights. “At the end of the day, there are a lot of things that we won’t be able to do unless the central government changes the laws,” he said.

While general public attitudes towards same-sex marriage have become increasingly positive in recent years, some conservative politicians continue to show hostility to the idea. Noboru Watanabe, an LDP lawmaker in Aichi Prefecture, was forced to apologize earlier this month after a social media post called same-sex marriage “disgusting”, the Mainichi newspaper reported. other media.

Plaintiffs have met with mixed fortunes in a series of court cases challenging Japan’s stance on not recognizing same-sex marriage. Last year, three couples won a partial victory when the Sapporo District Court ruled that same-sex couples’ lack of access to some of the rights granted by marriage constituted discrimination. By contrast, an Osaka court ruled against marriage equality in a separate case in June.

Last month, another case revealed that the denial of residency rights to the gay American spouse of a Japanese citizen was unconstitutional. The two had married in the United States.

(Updates with applicant’s comment in sixth paragraph.)

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