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.
She did not give details of the proposal that will recognize same-sex relationships without giving them full 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.
Opinion surveys show the public is largely in favor of equal marriage rights, but the long-ruling and conservative Liberal Democratic Party has shown little enthusiasm for change. Japan is the only Group of Seven country not to recognize 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 patchy coverage across the country is also unfair, he added.
While the change in the capital may step up pressure on the national government to introduce a unified system, the lack of full marriage equality is seen by several international corporations as hampering efforts to attract talent to Japan. Same-sex partners from overseas can face difficulty in obtaining visas and renting accommodation.
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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called for caution on the issue ahead of the October general election, even though a poll carried out by public broadcaster NHK in March found that 57% of respondents approved of same-sex marriage. 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. More courts are expected to reach verdicts on the issue next year, including one in the capital, Yanagisawa said.
Chile became the latest country to introduce same-sex marriage rights this week, adding to 30 governments that had already done so, according to Human Rights Campaign. Asia is lagging, with Taiwan being the only place to recognize equal marriage. A Thai court stopped short of granting marriage rights last month.
—With assistance from Takashi Hirokawa.
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