Tokyo has started recognizing same-sex couples. Couples who either live or work in the city can now be issued domestic partnership certificates.
Marriage equality is not recognized in Japan, but LGBTQ advocates hailed the move, which allows for same-sex couples to be treated as married couples when it comes to housing, health care, and social services.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said last week that 137 couples had applied for the certificates, which started being issued on Tuesday.
“My biggest fear has been that we would be treated as strangers in an emergency,” Miki, who is in a relationship with an American woman named Katie, told the AFP. She said that she and her partner used to keep a note in their wallets with the other’s contact information.
“But these were insubstantial, and we felt official documents certified by the local government would be more effective,” she said.
LGBTQ advocate Soyoka Yamamoto got a domestic partnership with her partner Yoriko. She said at a press conference that she hopes they can now use services and facilities without having to explain their relationship.
“Through this Tokyo partnership system, I sincerely hope we can accelerate efforts to create a society where the rights of sexual minorities can be protected, and made more equal,” she said.
The Tokyo metropolitan government announced the domestic partnerships this past May. Tokyo’s government said at the time that they would “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.”
Right now, Japan doesn’t offer national LGBTQ non-discrimination protections. 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.
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.
Two hundred municipalities across Japan already offer certificates recognizing same-sex domestic partnerships. Tokyo is the largest municipality to do so.