Nintendo recognises same-sex partnerships in Japan after court rules equal marriage ‘unconstitutional’

In this picture taken on May 9, 2022, a logo of Nintendo is pictured at its store in Tokyo.

In a 1-UP for LGBTQ+ rights, Nintendo is giving queer employees in same-sex partnerships in Japan the same benefits as married couples.

Same-sex marriage is illegal in Japan, with same-sex couples only able to obtain ‘partnership certificates’ in certain areas of the country giving them limited rights – not including inheritance or shared parental rights.

Despite this, Nintendo has said will give couples in same-sex partnerships exactly the same benefits it affords married employees.

“Although same-sex marriages are not currently recognised under Japanese law, this system ensures employees who are in a domestic partnership with a same-sex partner have the same benefits as employees in an opposite-sex marriage,” a new policy document explains.

The company said its “partnership system” aims to “create a work environment that supports and empowers each and every one of our unique employees”.

Nintendo also plans to revise its internal regulations “regarding harassment to clearly prohibit discriminatory comments based on sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as disclosing someone’s privately held sexual orientation against their will.”

As one of the richest companies in Japan and one of the most prominent worldwide gaming giants, Nintendo’s approach to embracing same-sex relationships is a huge step forward for the country.

The news comes just a few weeks after an Osaka court in Japan – where Nintendo’s main HQ operates – upheld a ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that it is not unconstitutional.

The court issued the ruling on 20 June after three same-sex couples – two male, one female – demanded that the court take action on the ban, as well as requests for 1 million yen ($6,004) in damages each.

Prime minister Fumio Kishida exercised caution on lifting the ban despite rising opinion polls showing a steady increase in support for same-sex marriages.

Kishida said that the “issue needs to be carefully considered.” His party has disclosed no plans to review the matter or progress the debate beyond the court ruling.

Same-sex couples are able to obtain partnership certificates in certain parts of Japan which help them rent together, but disallows them from legally marrying, inherting assets, or sharing parental rights.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike announced in December 2021 one that the entire city would become one of the regions to allow partnerships (some areas of Tokyo already do), with the move expected to take effect in November 2022.

A person walks past a screen displaying characters of different Nintendo games at a store for Japanese games giant Nintendo in Tokyo on February 3, 2022.

A person walks past a screen displaying characters of different Nintendo games at a store for Japanese games giant Nintendo in Tokyo on February 3, 2022. (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images)Nintendo has had a long history of LGBTQ+ rights advocacy as both a publisher and a developer. As well as publishing several games which feature queer characters, it was also the first developers to create a mainstream transgender video game character in Birdetta – often referred to as Birdo in official media.

Despite the problematic wording in the 1988 NES game Super Mario Bros. 2 instruction booklet saying that she “is a boy who thinks [she] is a girl,” many have taken the description to suggest she is transgender, making her somewhat of a trans icon within LGBTQ+ gaming spaces.

The open-arms acceptance from the company has created a community that acts as a safe-space for LGBTQ+ or questioning individuals. Games such as Animal Crossing have become places for queer gamers to hang out and feel safe in their own identity – queer stars including Queer Eye’s Bobby Berk are fans, with Berk even creating a Twitter thread to critique the interior design of fellow players.

The community has also embraced the idea that Donkey Kong is a trans ally – because why wouldn’t he be – after YouTuber and trans activist Harry Brewis aka HBomberGuy raised $160,000 after livestreaming himself playing the Nintendo 64 game Donkey Kong 64 for the transgender charity Mermaids.