The Japanese capital, Tokyo, announced on Tuesday (7) that it will recognize same-sex unions. This is an achievement of the LGBTQIA+ movement in the only country in the G7, a group that brings together some of the main economies in the world, which does not fully accept same-sex marriage at the national level.
According to plans announced by Governor Yuriko Koike, the new partnership system will allow couples to register their relationship and have access to some of the rights that heterosexuals already enjoy, such as permission to rent houses together and the possibility of receiving a visit from their partner. while one of them is in the hospital.
The new measures will take effect at the beginning of next year and will be legalized in the fiscal year that starts in April of next year.
While falling short of a legal marriage, the Tokyo decision is seen as an important step towards legalizing same-sex unions in a nation where the Constitution still defines marriage as based on the “mutual consent of both sexes”.
“This is incredible news,” said Masa Yanagisawa, head of Prime Services Japan at Goldman Sachs and board member of the activist group Marriage for All Japan.
“Some conservatives have expressed concern that while these partnerships are just symbolic pieces of paper, they could undermine Japanese traditions or the family system. Hopefully, this will be a chance to prove otherwise,” he said.
In 2015, Tokyo’s Shibuya district was the first place in Japan to introduce the partnership system. Currently, the model is adopted by 110 local governments, which cover 41% of the Japanese population.
With the accession of the capital, representation will surpass half the country, according to the campaign group Diversity Nijiiro.
Added to regional efforts is a decision by the court in Sapporo, in the north of the country, which in March ruled that it was unconstitutional to bar same-sex marriage.
After Tuesday’s announcement, Takeharu Kato, a lawyer who acted in the Sapporo case, commented on the Japanese capital’s decision and said the government may have shown moderation in expanding the partnership system due to the fact that many lawmakers of the acronym in power, Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) are reluctant to do so.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said this year during the LDP leadership dispute that the introduction of same-sex marriage would require “prudent consideration” and that it is “an issue that goes right to the heart of how families should be in Japan”.
Impact of the Olympics
Activists believe that the Olympic Games, held in Tokyo between July and August, and which carried the banner of diversity, contributed to the increase in acceptance by the Japanese population.
A recent survey of Tokyo residents conducted by the metropolitan government found that 70% of respondents favored same-sex partnerships.
“I’m sure the Olympics had an impact as Tokyo is thinking about what kind of legacy they should leave,” said LGBTQIA+ rights activist Gon Matsunaka.
Another boost was Tokyo’s interest in becoming a major international center and attracting foreign companies, many of which have a greater emphasis on LGBTQIA+ rights.
Before announcing the new measures, the Tokyo governor spoke with foreign business leaders, who said the city was lagging behind on this issue.
“From my perspective as an employee of Goldman Sachs, we want to attract international talent, but Japan is always at a disadvantage,” said Yanagisawa. “We offer our own benefits to employees in addition to national provisions to try to equalize the system, but there is a limitation on what is possible.”
The next goal, activists say, is to make marriage possible, though this will likely require more local areas to adopt same-sex partnership regulations, thus putting pressure on the national government to address the issue.