Tokyo takes small step towards marriage equality – but campaigners say it’s ‘not enough’

A person holding up the LGBTQ Pride flag

A Tokyo register for same-sex partnerships has been opened in a small step towards Japanese LGBTQ+ equality.

The partnership system, which opened for applications on Tuesday (11 October), allows same-sex couples to register for local government services, including public housing, as a legally recognised partnership.

The scheme is available online for couples with at least one partner living or studying in Tokyo, while certifications and legal recognition will be available from 1 November.

LGBTQ+ rights organisation Fair spokesperson Soshi Matsuoka said the introduction of the scheme is “extremely positive”, but insisted partnership “is not enough”.

“We basically want legal marriage,” he told Bloomberg.

LGBTQ+ rights in Japan

Same-sex marriage is not currently legally recognised in Japan despite overwhelming evidence from polling that the population is becoming increasingly accepting of the LGBTQ+ community.

This means same-sex couples cannot currently access certain rights afforded to heterosexual couples, such as inheriting assets or sharing parental rights.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike first announced the introduction of the new scheme on 7 December 2021, saying to an assembly meeting that it would be a significant shift in acceptance.

“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,” Koike said at the time.

Six months later, in May 2022, the governor further reiterated her assurance that the scheme would go ahead, announcing the November date for certifications to be issued.

Tokyo’s introduction of the partnership system will become extremely influential in future talks on same-sex marriage legalisation, according to Marriage for All Japan campaigner Hiroshi Ikeda.

“In terms of deepening understanding and respecting LGBTQ+ rights, Tokyo is very influential, so this is a wonderful thing,” Ikeda said.

A photo shows LGBTQ+ activists marching in a Tokyo Pride parade.

There’s been a great deal of evidence from polling that Japan’s population is becoming increasingly accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. (Getty)

Despite same-sex partnership registries already being available in multiple municipalities in Japan, Tokyo accounts for more than 10 per cent of the Japanese population.

Not only does this mean its policies are more politically influential, but it also means implemented legislation and policy will affect the largest amount of the population.

The news comes as a beacon of hope after a June 2022 ruling that upheld the ban on same-sex marriage, saying it was “not unconstitutional”.

The Osaka court issued its ruling on 20 June, declining the three same-sex couple plaintiffs’ request to acknowledge the ban as unconstitutional, as well as shutting down their requests for one million yen (£6,044) each in damages.

Plaintiff Machi Sakata told Reuters at the time the ruling “may really corner us” and questioned whether the legal system “is really working”.

Lawyer Akiyoshi Miwa, who was acting on behalf of the couples, said they were planning to appeal the ruling, adding that “we emphasised in this case that we wanted same-sex couples to have access to the same things as regular couples”.