Tokyo to Launch LGBT Partnership System in 2022

Tokyo to Launch LGBT Partnership System in 2022

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Tokyo LGBT Partnership System
Picture: ライダー写真家はじめ / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
In what could be a major advance for LGBT rights in Japan, Tokyo will soon support full partnership benefits for same-sex couples.

It’s been a long time coming. Yomiuri Shinbun and other news outlets in Japan are reporting that, in fiscal year 2022, the city of Tokyo will officially recognize partnerships between LGBT couples[1].

According to Yomiuri Shinbun, Tokyo governor Koike Yuriko made the announcement by saying, “It’s critical that we respect the individuality of all people in Tokyo – and that starts with sexual minorities.”

The partnership system won’t be recognized on the national level. Nationally, Japan forbids same-sex marriage. However, it will give LGBT couples in Tokyo rights surrounding fair housing, hospital visitations, and other local services.

Not The First

Japanese and LGBT flag

Long-time Unseen Japan readers know that Tokyo isn’t breaking ground here. Various cities and municipal wards in Japan already have partnership systems. The site Marriage for All Japan says that there are 2,277 couples currently registered through various partnership systems throughout Japan[2]. As of this writing, there are more than 130 partnership systems throughout Japan in total, covering 41.1% of the nation’s population.

Tokyo isn’t even the first place in Tokyo to offer partnership rights to LGBT couples! Currently, 12 wards in Tokyo sponsor a partnership system. The largest is Setagaya Ward. The most populace part of Tokyo, which is home to nearly 1 million Tokyoites, has 168 couples registered as of this writing.

As of this writing, there are more than 130 partnership systems throughout Japan in total, covering 41.1% of the nation's population. Share on X

However, Tokyo’s decision is still significant. It will be only the fifth of Japan’s administrative regions (都道府県; todoufuken) to recognize LGBT relationships. Osaka Metro, Ibaraki Prefecture, Gunma Prefecture, Mie Prefecture, and Saga Prefecture are the others.

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Other municipalities also recently joined the ranks of the partnership-enabled. On the UJ Twitter account recently, we reported that two cities in Okayama Prefecture had started partnership systems. Another city in Okayama, Souja, added a “familyship” system to its existing partnership framework. This additional framework will extend parental rights to children of LGBT couples.

Unseen Japan on Twitter: “The cities of Kurashiki, Maniwa, & Souja in Okayama Prefecture will legally recognize LGBT partnership unions as of December 1st. Souja also has implemented the Chuugoku region’s first “familyship” system extending legal parental rights to LGBT partners.https://t.co/2Xzkjgsw9J / Twitter”

The cities of Kurashiki, Maniwa, & Souja in Okayama Prefecture will legally recognize LGBT partnership unions as of December 1st. Souja also has implemented the Chuugoku region’s first “familyship” system extending legal parental rights to LGBT partners.https://t.co/2Xzkjgsw9J

As of this writing, it’s unclear whether Tokyo will also implement familyship. Earlier this year, Adachi Ward became the first ward in Tokyo to implement a familyship system[3].

Steady Improvements – and Lingering Hate

A vast majority of 20-30 year olds in Japan – 80% – support same-sex marriage, according to recent polling. Share on X

The announcement should be welcome news to Japan’s LGBT community. Japan has seen a steady advancement of recognition and rights for LGBT couples in recent years. Companies such as fast-fashion retailer Uniqlo have even come out publicly in support of LGBT couples.

However, LGBT people also still experience hate and prejudice. We reported last year how two politicians drew heat for their prejudical comments. And of course, there’s the case of infamous conservative gadfly Sugita Mio. Sugita’s member of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and a sitting member of Japan’s national Diet. The politician sparked protests a few years ago when she called LGBT couples “unproductive” and argued that they shouldn’t receive government money.

By and large, however, public opinion in Japan is shifting in the favor of its LGBT citizens. A vast majority of 20-30 year olds in Japan – 80% – support same-sex marriage, according to recent polling. And resistance among older, more “conservative” age groups is also dropping. Resistance to the idea among 40-50 year olds dropped by a third between 2015 and 2020[4].

Seeing this, activists in Japan are keeping up the pressure. Organizers of a recent exhibit in Osaka, for example, used love letters between LGBT couples to appeal to the hearts and minds of Japanese citizens. Organizer Inoue Hitomi said their goal was to show non-LGBT citizens that the rights of their LGBT brethren were important. “I want people to realize they’re not disconnected from this. These are your siblings, your children, your friends.”

Unseen Japan on Twitter: “On Nov 22nd, known in Japan as “Good Spouses Day”, a nonprofit org in Osaka opened an exhibit called “We Want to Be Good Spouses Too,” consisting of love letters between LGBT couples, as a protest against Japan’s lack of a national same sex marriage law.https://t.co/ZiuZlKsQuU / Twitter”

On Nov 22nd, known in Japan as “Good Spouses Day”, a nonprofit org in Osaka opened an exhibit called “We Want to Be Good Spouses Too,” consisting of love letters between LGBT couples, as a protest against Japan’s lack of a national same sex marriage law.https://t.co/ZiuZlKsQuU

The National Fight

The million-dollar question is: what effect will this have at the national level?

Nationally, the conservative government hasn’t budged on its contention that marriage is between a man and a woman. Several prominent LDP politicians (besides Sugita) have even made their own discriminatory statements. In 2019, politician Hirasawa Katuei declared that the advancement of LGBT rights would be “the death-knell of Japan.”

To its (tiny) credit, the LDP did try and do something beneficial for LGBT people in Japan. And I emphasize “tried”. Earlier this year, party leaders sought to pass a bill under which the government would work to spread awareness and understanding of LGBT citizens at a national level. However, the party soon scrapped the plan in the face of internal resistance[5].

Activists, frustrated at the lack of national action, have taken to the courts. In multiple lawsuits launched throughout Japan in 2019, Japanese LGBT couples argued that the national prohibition on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. For the most part, the courts have rejected these arguments. But activists won a victory earlier this year when a court in Sapporo found in their favor[6]. It’s still unclear, though, whether this ruling will be upheld at a national level.

Conclusion (For Now)

Could Tokyo’s decision move the needle? While anything’s possible, I don’t see the ruling LDP blinking. Too many in the party fiercely oppose giving any ground on this issue.

However, I think Tokyo could move other cities and administrative regions to adopt partnership systems. It’s looking likely that, by the end of 2022, partnership systems will cover a majority of Japanese citizens.

And that would certainly be something to celebrate.

Obviously, there are many more details to come in this story. We’ll update this story and publish more relevant articles as details unfold. Want to know when news breaks? Sign up for our mailing list!

Kids of Japanese LGBT Families Speak Out on New Program

Sources

[1] 東京都が「同性パートナーシップ制度」導入へ…知事「全ての都民を個人として尊重. Link

[2] 日本のパートナーシップ制度. Link

[3] 足立区パートナーシップ・ファミリーシップ制度. Link

[4] 同性婚、20〜30代の8割が賛成。性的マイノリティの友人への「抵抗感」は40〜50代で大幅に減少【全国調査】. Link

[5] 自民、LGBT法案の提出断念 今国会で日程確保できず. Link

[6] 同性婚の不受理、初の違憲判断 札幌地裁「差別的扱い」. Link

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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