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12 May 2022

A small step forward for Marriage Equality in Japan

Change is slow.

Tokyo will start recognising same-sex partnerships later this year, but will stop short of marriage equality.
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike announced a new system for residents in same-sex relationships back in December 2021. Six months later, on Tuesday (10 May), the city’s government confirmed that the first certificates will be issued from November, the Mainichi reported.
The scheme will cover the entirety of the city, and comes after Tokyo’s Shibuya district became the first Japanese municipality to issue partnerships to same-sex couples in 2015. Since then, about 200 municipalities across Japan have taken similar action. 
However, these same-sex partnership certificates are not legally binding nor do they grant LGBTQ+ couples equal rights to heterosexual married couples. Several LGBTQ+ advocates have said the plans fall short of bringing forward true equality.
National lobby group Marriage for All Japan said on Twitter in December that the partnership “doesn’t have the same legal effects as marriage” and called on the government to “hurry up” with marriage equality.
The Tokyo metropolitan government said the purpose of the certificate is to “promote understanding among Tokyo residents about sexual diversity, and to reduce inconvenience in daily lives surrounding sexual minorities in order to create more pleasant living conditions for them”, the Associated Press reported. 
Japan is the only country in the G7 groups that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage as the country’s constitution defines marriages as being between “both sexes”.
A number of LGBTQ+ couples have launched legal battles to have same-sex marriage recognised in Japan. 
Last year, the Sapporo district court ruled that Japan’s failure to recognise same-sex marriage was “unconstitutional”. The court declared that sexual orientation “cannot be changed” and that it was “discriminatory” that queer couples “cannot receive even some of the legal benefits that heterosexuals do”. 
The landmark judgement, however, was seen as largely symbolic.
Tokyo couples will be able to apply for a partnership from October, and certificates will be issued to them the following month. 
Officials said applicants will be limited to adult residents of the city, but foreign nationals who meet the requirements will be eligible to apply for a certificate with their partner. Couples will also have the option to include their children’s names on the certificates if they wish.
According to Mainichi, the Tokyo metropolitan government is considering allowing same-sex couples to apply for municipal housing and give consent for their partner to receive surgery at a medical facility. 
Japan is relatively progressive when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights with homosexuality being legal since 1880. But there are no laws protecting queer people from discrimination in the workplace or housing, and anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice is still rife. 
Additionally, several LGBTQ+ activists and human rights organisations have denounced Japan’s archaic gender laws which require trans people to undergo surgery and be sterilised before they can legally change their gender.

The city of Tokyo will start recognising same-sex partnerships later this year, but marriage equality still remains out of reach of LGBTQ people in Japan.

The registration system for same-sex relationships in Tokyo was announced back in December 2021. The city's administration has now confirmed that same-sex marriage registration certificates will begin to be issued from November 2022.

This effectively extends city-wide the registration system that was established in Tokyo's Shibuya municipality.

However, these same-sex partnership certificates are not legally binding nor do they grant LGBTQ couples equal rights to heterosexual married couples. 

What's life like for LGBTQ people in Japan?

What’s life like for LGBTQ people in Japan? Let’s take a look at some of the key equality measures.

Is homosexuality legal in Japan?

Yes. Same-sex sexual activity has never really been addressed by Japan’s penal code.

Are there anti-discrimination protections in place for LGBTQ people in Japan?

Yes. Major cities have anti-discrimination provisions that protect against discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, but there’s not a comprehensive national framework.

Is there Marriage Equality in Japan?

No. Some city-level authorities have introduced partnership certificates which extend some legal recognition to same-sex relationships.

Japan’s constitution and civil code explicitly restrict marriage to opposite sex couples.

What’s life like for LGBTQ people in Japan?

While Japan can seem ultra-modern, underpinning Japan’s culture is a socially conservative and traditional view of the world.

Generally, Japan is fairly welcoming and accepting of LGBTQ people.

In larger cities, there is a visible LGBTQ community.

What’s the history of homosexuality in Japan?

Homosexuality and same-sex relations have been documented in Japan since ancient times.

In the pre-Meiji period, relationships inside Buddhist monasteries were typically pederastic. The older partner (the nenja) would be a monk, priest or abbot, while the younger partner (the chigo) would be an acolyte – an adolescent boy. The relationship would be dissolved once the boy reached adulthood or left the monastery. Both parties were encouraged to treat the relationship seriously and conduct the affair honourably, and the nenja might be required to write a formal vow of fidelity.

During the Tokugawa period, some of the Shinto gods – especially Hachiman, Myoshin, Shinmei, and Tenjin – came to be seen as guardian deities of nanshoku (male–male love).

Same-sex sexual activity was also common among the samurai – the warrior class. Among the samurai, it was customary for a boy in the wakashū age category to undergo training in the martial arts by apprenticing to a more experienced adult man. The relationship was based on the typical nenja, who loves, and the typically younger chigo, who is loved. The man was permitted, if the boy agreed, to take the boy as his lover until he came of age. These relationships were expected to be exclusive, with both partners swearing to take no other lovers.

Miyamoto Musashi – a legendary swordsman of the samurai era – is one of the most famous practitioners of the same-sex warrior lover tradition.

As Japan progressed into the Meiji era, same-sex practices continued. However, there was a growing animosity towards these practices. The practice of nanshoku began to die out after the Russo-Japanese War. Opposition to homosexuality did not become firmly established in Japan until the 19th and 20th centuries, through the Westernisation efforts of the Empire of Japan.

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