Tokyo to start recognising same-sex couples this year – but stops short of true equality

The LGBTQ+ community and allies march in the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade from the Shibuya and Harajuku areas carrying rainbow flags and signs

Tokyo will start recognising same-sex partnerships later this year, but will stop short of marriage equality.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike announced a new system for residents in same-sex relationships back in December 2021. Six months later, on Tuesday (10 May), the city’s government confirmed that the first certificates will be issued from November, the Mainichi reported.

The scheme will cover the entirety of the city, and comes after Tokyo’s Shibuya district became the first Japanese municipality to issue partnerships to same-sex couples in 2015. Since then, about 200 municipalities across Japan have taken similar action. 

However, these same-sex partnership certificates are not legally binding nor do they grant LGBTQ+ couples equal rights to heterosexual married couples. Several LGBTQ+ advocates have said the plans fall short of bringing forward true equality.

National lobby group Marriage for All Japan said on Twitter in December that the partnership “doesn’t have the same legal effects as marriage” and called on the government to “hurry up” with marriage equality.

The Tokyo metropolitan government said the purpose of the certificate is to “promote understanding among Tokyo residents about sexual diversity, and to reduce inconvenience in daily lives surrounding sexual minorities in order to create more pleasant living conditions for them”, the Associated Press reported. 

Japan is the only country in the G7 groups that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage as the country’s constitution defines marriages as being between “both sexes”.

A number of LGBTQ+ couples have launched legal battles to have same-sex marriage recognised in Japan. 

Last year, the Sapporo district court ruled that Japan’s failure to recognise same-sex marriage was “unconstitutional”. The court declared that sexual orientation “cannot be changed” and that it was “discriminatory” that queer couples “cannot receive even some of the legal benefits that heterosexuals do”. 

The landmark judgement, however, was seen as largely symbolic.

Tokyo couples will be able to apply for a partnership from October, and certificates will be issued to them the following month. 

Officials said applicants will be limited to adult residents of the city, but foreign nationals who meet the requirements will be eligible to apply for a certificate with their partner. Couples will also have the option to include their children’s names on the certificates if they wish.

According to Mainichi, the Tokyo metropolitan government is considering allowing same-sex couples to apply for municipal housing and give consent for their partner to receive surgery at a medical facility. 

Japan is relatively progressive when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights with homosexuality being legal since 1880. But there are no laws protecting queer people from discrimination in the workplace or housing, and anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice is still rife

Additionally, several LGBTQ+ activists and human rights organisations have denounced Japan’s archaic gender laws which require trans people to undergo surgery and be sterilised before they can legally change their gender.