Tokyo ward 1st in Japan to recognize same-sex marriage

Koyuki Higashi, right, and her partner, Hiroko Masuhara, left, holding a banner reading: "Congratulations: the same sex partnership ordinance" speak to the media in front of Shibuya ward office in Tokyo Tuesday, March 31, 2015 after Shibuya ward became the first locale in Japan to recognize same sex partnerships as the "equivalent of a marriage," guaranteeing the identical rights of married couples with a landmark vote by the ward assembly. Yuri Kageyama, AP

Koyuki Higashi, right, and her partner, Hiroko Masuhara, left, holding a banner reading: "Congratulations: the same sex partnership ordinance" speak to the media in front of Shibuya ward office in Tokyo Tuesday, March 31, 2015 after Shibuya ward became the first locale in Japan to recognize same sex partnerships as the "equivalent of a marriage," guaranteeing the identical rights of married couples with a landmark vote by the ward assembly.Yuri Kageyama, AP

Koyuki Higashi, right, and her partner, Hiroko Masuhara, left, holding a banner reading: “Congratulations: the same sex partnership ordinance” speak to the media in front of Shibuya ward office in Tokyo Tuesday, March 31, 2015 after Shibuya ward became the first locale in Japan to recognize same sex partnerships as the “equivalent of a marriage,” guaranteeing the identical rights of married couples with a landmark vote by the ward assembly.

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.”

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The 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.

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