Same-sex couples to be recognized under plan by Tokyo’s Shibuya ward


TOKYO — Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward plans to issue certificates recognizing same-sex couples as being in “relationships equivalent to marriage,” becoming the first local government in Japan to do so.

The plan is set down in a draft statute incorporated in a fiscal 2015 budget unveiled Feb. 12. The draft statute is to be presented to the municipal assembly session scheduled to convene in early March.

Although it would be legally nonbinding, Shibuya’s move would likely raise awareness about the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and could have an impact on decisions by other local governments and possibly the central government.

Homosexual couples often face discrimination in moving into apartments together or visiting partners at hospitals on the grounds that they are not relatives.

The plan is expected to draw opposition from some assembly members who fear it could threaten traditional family values. The Constitution defines marriage as “based only on the mutual consent of both sexes.”

A ward official said of the certificate plan, “We consider it a completely separate system” from marriage. If the Shibuya assembly approves the statute, it will come into force on April 1, the start of fiscal year 2015. The office says it would begin issuing certificates sometime in that fiscal year.

Eligible couples would have to be ward residents aged 20 or older and would be required to have a contract designating each other as guardians if their circumstances require such an arrangement. Certificates would be canceled if they break up.

Shibuya, one of the 23 wards, or “cities,” that make up central Tokyo, is planning to urge local residents and businesses to treat certified same-sex pairs no differently from married couples.

The municipal government set up a panel of experts last year and heard the views of LGBT residents. Mayor Toshitake Kuwahara said, “We would like to address LGBT issues from the viewpoint of aiming to realize a diverse society where differences are mutually accepted and respected.”

Yasuhiko Watanabe, professor at Kyoto Sangyo University graduate school, said, “In Germany and Switzerland, local governments first worked out partnership systems, and these were crystallized into a national system. We could see similar moves in Japan.”

In a 2012 survey conducted by the Dentsu Innovation Institute, about 5.2 percent of around 70,000 people aged 20-59 said they identify themselves as belonging to the LGBT community.

Opinions about marriage have also been evolving in Japan especially among young people. Same-sex marriage was opposed by 52 percent and supported by 42 percent in a survey of all generations conducted last year by Nihon Yoron Chosakai but among those in their 20s and 30s, support reached 70 percent.

Koyukuki Higashi, 30, and Hiroko Masuhara, 37, a lesbian couple who live in the ward, expressed hope that the measure will resolve difficulties in their daily life and help change awareness about their problems.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *