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Tokyo will start recognizing same-sex civil unions

Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2016
Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2016Photo: Shutterstock

The Tokyo metropolitan government of Japan will start recognizing same-sex unions in order to make life easier for same-sex couples. The civil unions won’t have the same legal rights and protections as marriages, but the move marks the latest step towards LGBTQ acceptance in the Land of the Rising Sun.

On Tuesday, Tokyo’s government announced that it will accept applications from same-sex couples seeking certificates recognizing their partnerships starting in October. Foreign nationals will also be allowed to enter these unions with native-born citizens. These certificates will help same-sex couples rent apartments together, visit each other in city hospitals, and receive other services that married heterosexual couples enjoy.

Related: How Japanese homophobia is distinctly different from American homophobia

“[The certificates are intended] to promote understanding among Tokyo residents about sexual diversity and to reduce inconveniences in daily lives surrounding sexual minorities in order to create more pleasant living conditions for them,” Tokyo’s government said in a statement, according to the AP.

Right now, Japan doesn’t offer national LGBTQ non-discrimination protections or same-sex marriage. As a result, LGBTQ people in Japan often face inequities in employment, housing, education, and health care.

LGBTQ advocacy groups have pushed for a national bill that would enshrine equal civil rights and non-discrimination protections into law. However, the conservative party of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida helped defeat the effort, leading up to last summer’s Olympic Games.

Despite this, a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center showed that 54 percent of Japanese citizens believe that homosexuality should be socially accepted. Accordingly, 200 cities across Japan have begun offering certificates recognizing same-sex civil unions. Collectively, these municipalities represent 12 percent of the country’s total cities.

In March 2021, a Japanese court ruled that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. In 2019, another Japanese court ruled that trans people can no longer be banned from bathrooms.

However, Japan still has a long road ahead for full LGBTQ equality. In 2019, the Supreme Court of Japan ruled that all people having gender reassignment must be sterilized prior to surgery. Additionally, transitioning individuals must be unmarried, have no children under the age of 20, and must surgically transition in order to get their gender legally changed.

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