TOKYO — With a landmark vote Tuesday by the assembly of Tokyo’s Shibuya ward, the district famous as a mecca for trendy youngsters became the first locale in Japan to recognize same sex partnerships as the “equivalent of a marriage,” guaranteeing the identical rights of married couples, including hospital visitations and apartment rentals.
The new ordinance applies only to Shibuya, and it’s technically not legally binding, though violators will have their names posted on the ward’s website.
Shibuya – an area with a population of 217,000, including 9,000 foreigners – is also planning an aggressive educational campaign on LGBT issues.
Japanese conservatives, including the powerful politicians of the ruling party, have been unwilling to back the initiative, and protest rallies have popped up in Shibuya.
“A great social ramification will be expected from such a decision,” Mari Sato, a ruling party ward legislator opposed to the move, told the assembly ahead of Tuesday’s vote. “We need much more time to discuss this issue.”
Article continues belowThe vote passed, with the majority of the 34 ward’s legislators standing up to show their approval.
Many Japanese LGBT people keep their sexual orientation secret for fear of a social backlash, so the number of people who will take advantage of the change is unclear. But Shibuya is expecting an influx of gay and lesbian people.
The first certificates are expected to be issued in July.
Shibuya ward Mayor Toshitake Kuwahara says accepting diversity matches the friendly, vivacious character of the area – a bustling place known for boutiques, live music and a Silicon Valley-like cluster of startups.
He says young “sexual minorities” live in fear, worrying about their future and grappling with self-doubt. “This is the reality,” Kuwahara told reporters recently. “The purpose is to realize a society where everyone can live in hope.”
Koyuki Higashi and Hiroko Masuhara, a rare visible and vocal lesbian couple in Japan, emerged from the Shibuya ward office Tuesday, holding up a rainbow banner that said, “Thank you, Shibuya,” in English.
Article continues belowThe couple said they moved to Shibuya four months ago, just to apply for a same sex marriage certificate. They have been together for three years, and held a symbolic wedding at Tokyo DisneySea two years ago.
“To marry the same sex is no different from marrying the opposite sex,” said Higashi, 30, adding that she clutched Masuhara’s hand in joy the moment the ordinance passed.
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