Japanese city of a million legally recognises same-sex couples

A Japanese same-sex couple in wedding attire takes part in the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade on May 6, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

The Japanese city of Chiba has given official recognition to same-sex couples.

Chiba, which is home to a million people, issued certificates to four same-sex couples on Tuesday (January 29), according to Japanese newspaper The Mainichi.

The documents will allow the partners to access many of the rights enjoyed by married people, like being able to apply for public housing as a couple and visit their loved one in the hospital.

More than a dozen cities and municipalities have now moved to legalise same-sex unions in Japan, where same-sex marriage is still not legal.

The ceremony in Chiba was hosted by Mayor Toshihito Kumagai, who told the queer couples: “I wish you happiness in becoming better partners.”

“I was longing for the system, and I am very happy.”

— Ryuta Yanase

To qualify for the certificates, couples need to be at least 20 years old, unmarried and living in Chiba or planning to move to the city, which is just east of Tokyo.

One of the participants of the ceremony, Ryuta Yanase, told Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun that he and his partner Satoru Ito had moved from the nearby city of Funabashi after hearing of the law change.

Yanase, 56, was delighted to get legal recognition for him and his 65-year-old partner.

“I was longing for the system, and I am very happy,” he said.

“I hope this society becomes a place where LGBT people are treated fairly.”

Japan makes progress on rights for same-sex couples

Chiba is the latest big city in the country to recognise queer partners, after Fukuoka instituted legal recognition last year.

Fukuoka, which has a population of 1.5 million, was the second-biggest place in Japan to recognise same-sex couples, after Sapporo offered legal recognition to same-sex partners in 2017.

Sapporo also recognises relationships involving at least one non-binary person.

And at least 11 same-sex couples are set to sue the Japanese government next month in an effort to legalise same-sex marriage.

Lesbian couple Ai Nakajima—a Japan citizen—and her German partner Kristina Baumann got married in Germany in 2018

Lesbian partners Ai Nakajima and Kristina Baumann want same-sex marriage to be legal in Japan (Ai Nakajima/facebook)

The joint lawsuit is set to be filed at four district courts in Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo and Tokyo.

It will state that the inability of Japanese same-sex couples to marry in the country violates their constitutional right to equality and freedom of marriage.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers said the lawsuit is the first one filed in Japan that seeks recognition for same-sex marriages.

Ai Nakajima and Kristina Baumann are one of the same-sex couples planning to file the groundbreaking joint lawsuit in mid-February, according to The Asahi Shimbun.

Nakajima, who lives with Baumann in Yokohama, said: “We are facing a reality where (a same-sex couple) cannot get married in Japan yet.

“We would like to challenge the current situation with the lawsuit, which will also be helpful for a number of sexual minority people.”