Tokyo to recognise same-sex couples – but activists say it’s nowhere near enough

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike

Tokyo will legally recognise same-sex partnerships from April 2022 – but activists say the move falls far short of full equality.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike made the announcement on Tuesday (7 December), and, according to Time Magazine, told an assembly meeting: “From the point of view of advancing understanding of sexual diversity, as well as reducing the problems faced by those involved, we will lay out basic principles for introducing a same-sex partnership system in the next fiscal year.”

More than 130 local governments in Japan already offer certificates to same-sex couples allowing them some of the legal benefits available to opposite-sex couples.

Tokyo’s Shibuya ward was the first in Japan to introduce the system in 2015, according to Reuters, but from the new fiscal year it will cover the entire capital city.

The partnerships allow for couples to rent a home together and to visit each other in hospital, but do not give many of the rights enjoyed by married couples.

For example, people in same-sex relationships remain unable to inherit their partner’s assets, do not have parental rights over their partner’s children and do not benefit from tax deductions.

Japan urged to introduce marriage equality

While introducing same-sex legal partnerships in Tokyo is a step in the right direction for the capital’s queer community, these issues remain.

National lobby group Marriage for All Japan said on Twitter that “partnership doesn’t have the same legal effects as marriage” and added: “National government, hurry up on [recognising same-sex] marriage!”

Opinion polls have found that the majority of people in Japan back marriage equality, and in March, Japan’s Sapporo District Court ruled that blocking same-sex marriage is “unconstitutional”. 

It was hoped that the ruling, which declared it was “discriminatory” that same-sex couples “cannot receive even some of the legal benefits that heterosexuals do”, would set a precedent for rulings in other district courts in Japan.

But still, same-sex marriage has failed to materialise in Japan, which remains the only G7 country yet to legalise marriage equality.

According to Japan Times, prime minister Fumio Kishida, of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, said ahead of this year’s elections that he had “not reached the point of accepting same-sex marriage”.