Tokyo celebrates as first ward begins registering queer families amid calls for LGBT+ rights overhaul


A municipality in Tokyo has begun certifying LGBT+ couples and their children as families, a powerful move in a country that does not yet recognise same-sex marriage.

As of Thursday (1 April) the Adachi ward is the first municipality in Japan’s capital to acknowledge queer couples’ children – biological or adopted – as their family members.

It joins 100 local governments in Japan to offer the certifications. Though they have no legal basis, the move was welcomed by LGBT+ advocates as it came in the wake of controversial anti-LGBT+ comments from the ward’s own assemblyman.

Masateru Shiraishi, 79, a member of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, drew public outcry in September when he said his municipality would “cease to exist” if the rights of sexual minorities are protected by law.

“If lesbian and gay [couples] spread to Adachi Ward completely, we will have no residents, because it means there will be no children,” he claimed.

After initially refusing to apologise the lawmaker eventually retracted his words, which were seen as blaming LGBT+ people for the country’s falling birth rate.

“I regret my actions and will make efforts to accept different sexualities from now on,” he said.

Following the widespread criticism of Shiraishi’s remarks, the ward sought opinions from members of sexual minority groups to ensure their voices and beliefs were reflected in future policymaking.

The result is a new “partnership and familyship certificate system” which will issue cards to recognise family relationships between LGBT+ couples as well as minors under 20 living with either one of them in Adachi.

“We have requested local entities such as real estate agencies, schools and hospitals treat LGBT+ couples as same as married couples,” said Mitsuhiro Terajima, head of the ward office’s section overseeing the initiative, speaking to Japan Today.

Through the program the local government “aims to achieve a society where any resident can live safely with a partner or someone important,” he added.

Any unmarried residents of Adachi Ward, including foreign nationals, are eligible for the scheme.

It is one of many changes being made at local levels in Japan as LGBT+ couples increasingly highlight the difficulties they face in being unable to marry, such as being unable to sign a joint housing rental contract, make medical decisions for their partners, have co-parenting rights or become a beneficiary of the partner’s life insurance.

Ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games, human rights groups are pressuring the Japanese government to introduce basic protections for all LGBT+ citizens.