Recognition of same-sex unions in Japan
Same-sex marriage is not recognized in Japan. As of 2020, 45 municipalities and two prefectures issue same-sex partnership certificates which provide some benefits but do not offer any legal recognition. Most polls conducted since 2013 have found that a slight majority of Japanese people support the legalization of same-sex marriage or partnerships, and a 2018 poll found it supported by an overwhelming majority of those under age 60.
On April 1, 2015, Shibuya in central Tokyo announced that it would offer same-sex couples special "partnership certificates" (Japanese: パートナーシップ宣誓制度, pātonāshippu sensei seido) which are stated to be equivalent to marriage. While these licenses are not legally recognized as marriage certificates, they are still a useful tool in civil matters such as hospital visitation rights and housing. The Shibuya city office began accepting applications on 28 October 2015.
In response to this action by the Shibuya city office, the "Special Committee to Protect Family Ties" (家族の絆を守る特命委員会, kazoku no kizuna wo mamoru tokumei iinkai) of the federal ruling Liberal Democratic Party was formed in March 2015 to discuss the matter. An officer from the Ministry of Justice who was invited to comment stated that the action by Shibuya is legal because the certificate issued is not a marriage certificate and the current Japanese legal code does not prohibit the "partnership" of same-sex couples.
In July 2015, Tokyo's Setagaya Ward announced that it would be joining Shibuya in recognizing same-sex partnerships from 5 November of the same year. On 30 November 2015, the special city of Takarazuka, located in Hyōgo Prefecture, announced it would issue partnership certificates to same-sex couples beginning on 1 June 2016. In December 2015, the city of Iga in Mie Prefecture made a similar announcement with certificates starting on 1 April 2016. On 22 February 2016, Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, announced it would begin issuing partnership certificates to same-sex couples on 8 July 2016, making it the first core city in Japan to recognize same-sex couples.
In April 2016, an LGBT rights group began a campaign for the official recognition of same-sex couples in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido Prefecture. The group took its petition to the Sapporo City Government in June 2016. In December 2016, officials announced that Sapporo planned to draw up guidelines by March 2017. In March, the City Government announced that partnership certificates would be issued to couples beginning on 1 June 2017. While the certificates hold no legal meaning, some insurance companies use them to allow same-sex partners to be added as beneficiaries. According to the city, about 1,500 people expressed opinions welcoming the program, while some opposed it. Sapporo became the first designated city in Japan to recognize same-sex couples.
On 14 February 2018, the Fukuoka City Government announced plans to start issuing partnership certificates to same-sex and different-sex couples from 2 April 2018. Osaka followed suit on 9 July 2018, and Chiba on 29 January 2019.
Tokyo's Nakano Ward began offering partnership certificates in August 2018. Couples can receive notarized documentation recognizing a delegation agreement for medical treatment and nursing care, property management and other areas in which married couples share responsibility. The town of Ōizumi, in Gunma Prefecture, began issuing partnership certificates on 1 January 2019.
On 1 April 2019, the municipalities of Edogawa, Fuchū, Hirakata, Kumamoto, Odawara, Sakai, Sōja, Toshima and Yokosuka all started recognizing same-sex couples. The city of Hida also planned to start issuing such certificates that same day, however, this was postponed to an unspecificed date.
Kanuma, and Miyazaki began issuing partnership certificates on 3 June and 10 June 2019, respectively, while Kitakyushu began doing so on 1 July, Nishio on 1 September, Nagasaki on 2 September, Sanda on 11 October, Katano on 22 November, Yokohama on 2 December, and Daitō and Kamakura on 4 December.
On 1 January 2020, Mitoyo began issuing partnership certificates, followed by Amagasaki on 6 January. On 1 April 2020, a total of 13 municipalities throughout Japan began issuing partnership certificates to same-sex couples. These include the designated cities of Hamamatsu, Niigata, Sagamihara, and Saitama, as well as the cities of Koga, Nara, Takamatsu, Tokushima, Yamatokōriyama, and Zushi, and the town of Kijō. Two special wards of Tokyo, namely Minato and Bunkyō, also started issuing such certificates.
Measures to allow partnership certificates have been proposed in numerous areas, including several administrative wards in Tokyo, such as Arakawa, Chiyoda, Chūō, Katsushika, Kita, Kōtō, Nerima, Sumida, and Taitō, and the cities of Abashiri, Hachiōji, Hannō, Iruma, Kōchi, Kazo, Moroyama and Sakado.
Prefectural partnership systemsEdit
In January 2019, the Government of Ibaraki Prefecture announced it was considering introducing partnership certificates for same-sex couples in April 2019. In March 2019, Governor Kazuhiko Ōigawa expressed his personal support for the introduction of such a scheme, while the Ibaraki Prefectural Assembly was still considering legislation to this effect. The Assembly began examing such a partnership measure in June 2019, with reportedly positive reviews. The prefecture has offered partnership certificates since July 1, 2019, which made it the first prefecture to do so. Eight days later, Mito, the capital of Ibaraki Prefecture, announced it would let couples who are in the possession of the prefecture's partnership certificates move into the municipality's public housing facilities, starting in August 2019.
On 15 January 2020, Osaka Prefecture announced it would start a partnership system on January 22. Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said in a statement that "we should aim for a society where one can live as themselves". The first couple to receive a certificate were Shuji Yamada and Shigeo Hiruda on 31 January. The certificate allows couples to apply to move into prefectural housing and consent to surgery, among other limited benefits. 5 cities in the prefecture had already established such a system before its extension to the entire prefecture.
On October 30, 2019, the cities of Fukuoka and Kumamoto announced that they would share and recognize each other's partnership certificates effectively immediately. This marked the first time that two or more jurisdictions in Japan had recognized each other's partnership certificates, easing recognition for same-sex couples. On 6 November, Kitakyushu Mayor Kenji Kitahashi stated that he wants his city to join the other two cities in their cooperation.
On December 2, 2019, Yokosuka Mayor Katsuaki Kamiji announced his intention to establish a similar joint recognition with the cities of Zushi and Kamakura, taking effect on 1 April 2020 when Zushi's certificates became available.
The following 45 municipalities and two prefectures offer "partnership certificates", comprising about 26% of the Japanese population. In 11 further jurisdictions, such policies have yet to take effect.
- Shibuya, Tokyo (2015)
- Setagaya, Tokyo (2015)
- Iga, Mie (2016)
- Takarazuka, Hyōgo (2016)
- Naha, Okinawa (2016)
- Sapporo, Hokkaido (2017)
- Fukuoka, Fukuoka (2018)
- Osaka, Osaka (2018)
- Nakano, Tokyo (2018)
- Ōizumi, Gunma (2019)
- Chiba, Chiba (2019)
- Edogawa, Tokyo (2019)
- Fuchū, Tokyo (2019)
- Hirakata, Osaka (2019)
- Kumamoto, Kumamoto (2019)
- Odawara, Kanagawa (2019)
- Sakai, Osaka (2019)
- Sōja, Okayama (2019)
- Toshima, Tokyo (2019)
- Yokosuka, Kanagawa (2019)
- Kanuma, Tochigi (2019)
- Miyazaki, Miyazaki (2019)
- Kitakyushu, Fukuoka (2019)
- Nishio, Aichi (2019)
- Nagasaki, Nagasaki (2019)
- Sanda, Hyōgo (2019)
- Katano, Osaka (2019)
- Yokohama, Kanagawa (2019)
- Daitō, Osaka (2019)
- Kamakura, Kanagawa (2019)
- Mitoyo, Kagawa (2020)
- Amagasaki, Hyōgo (2020)
- Bunkyō, Tokyo (2020)
- Hamamatsu, Shizuoka (2020)
- Kijō, Miyazaki (2020)
- Koga, Fukuoka (2020)
- Minato, Tokyo (2020)
- Nara, Nara (2020)
- Niigata, Niigata (2020)
- Sagamihara, Kanagawa (2020)
- Saitama, Saitama (2020)
- Takamatsu, Kagawa (2020)
- Tokushima, Tokushima (2020)
- Yamatokōriyama, Nara (2020)
- Zushi, Kanagawa (2020)
Jurisidictions with policies yet to take effectEdit
The first couple to receive a partnership certificate were Koyuki Higashi and Hiroko Masuhara in Shibuya on 5 November 2015. They were personally congratulated by Mayor Ken Hasebe. On that same day, Setagaya Ward also began recognising same-sex partnerships, and distributed partnership certificates to 7 couples. By April 2017, 17 same-sex couples had been issued partnership certificates in Shibuya.
Nijiiro Diversity maintains statistics on the number of registered couples. It has found a large increase in partnerships, from 319 in late November 2018, to 426 in April 2019, to 617 in October 2019, and to 759 in January 2020. The latest numbers from 20 January 2020 show a total of 759 couples registered across 33 jurisdictions, with Tokyo and Osaka prefectures having the most couples registered at 233 and 184 couples respectively.
On March 27, 2009, it was reported that Japan allows its nationals to marry same-sex foreign partners in countries where same-sex marriage is legal. Japan does not allow same-sex marriage domestically and had so far also refused to issue a document, which states a person is single and of legal age and is required for citizens to wed overseas, if the applicant's intended spouse is of the same legal sex. Under the change, the Ministry of Justice instructed local authorities to issue the key certificate for those who want to have same-sex marriages.
Since 15 May 2012, Tokyo Disney Resort has allowed symbolic (not legally recognized) same-sex marriage ceremonies in its Cinderella's Castle hotel. On March 3, 2013, its first same-sex marriage was held. Koyuki Higashi married her partner Hiroko Masuhara.
In March 2019, the Justice Ministry revoked a deportation order for a gay Taiwanese man who remained in Japan illegally after overstaying his visa, giving consideration to his longtime same-sex relationship with a Japanese national. The ministry issued a special residency permit to the man, who had lived in Japan for about 25 years. The ministry's Immigration Bureau granted him a one-year resident visa after the Tokyo District Court suggested that it review the order.
Article 24 of the Japanese Constitution states: "Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis." Previously, a couple in Japan could marry only if their respective head of household (the father, or in the absence of a father, the eldest son) consented to the union. As a result, arranged marriage was the dominant form of marriage. Those couples who could not obtain permission had to elope and stay in common-law marriage.
The purpose of Article 24 of the new Constitution was to assert freedom of consenting adults to marry, and to explicitly establish the equality of both sexes in marriage. The wording defined marriage as a union of husband and wife. Some legal scholars argue that because the intent behind the article was not in reference to same-sex marriage, it need not apply in legalising same-sex marriage. However, conservative lawmakers as well as legal scholars who take a literal approach to constitutional interpretation argue that such an argument is a stretch.
We need to eliminate lifestyle difficulties for same-sex couples. A prerequisite to achieving this goal is dealing with Article 24 of the Constitution.
Extending the institution of marriage to same-sex couples was not anticipated under the current Constitution. It is an issue that concerns the very core of family values and, I believe, one that requires extremely careful consideration.
In July 2019, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations submitted a paper in support of same-sex marriage to the Minister of Justice, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the House of Councillors. The paper states that Article 24 does not ban such marriages, as "the notion of same-sex marriage was beyond the scope of assumption at the time of [its] enactment", and that prohibiting it constitutes a major breach of human rights, urging the National Diet to revise the laws in order to legalize same-sex marriage.
Political support and legislationEdit
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) supports same-sex marriage. In December 2018, the party announced it would introduce a bill to amend the Civil Code so as to allow same-sex marriage sometime in 2019. On 3 June 2019, the bill was submitted by the CDP, the Japanese Communist Party and other parties. It seeks to adopt neutral language with the terms "party of marriage" being used instead of "husband" and "wife", while "father and mother" would be replaced by "parents". In June 2019, the CDP added the legalisation of same-sex marriage and ending discrimination against the LGBT community to their party platform ahead of the 2019 Japanese House of Councillors election.
In November 2018, several same-sex couples throughout the country announced their intention to file suit against state authorities, arguing that the refusal to recognise same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. In January 2019, about a dozen same-sex couples applied for marriage certificates at different city offices in Japan. Lawsuits contesting the same-sex marriage ban were filed on 14 February in district courts in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Sapporo.
In Japan, each citizen is registered through the koseki system whereby an individual is registered as a part of household (while in the West, a birth certificate can act as a proof of identity). Koseki registration performs a somewhat similar role to marriage in the West as it endows a member of the same koseki legal power (as next of kin) in dealing with civil matters such as inheritance, hospital visits or the right to organise a funeral. Therefore, registering each other as a part of the koseki works as a substitute for Western-style marriage. As a consequence, Japanese gay couples, in the absence of same-sex marriage or civil partnership laws, often use adoption procedures to register themselves as belonging to the same household (where the older partner legally adopts the younger partner, which in absence of a spouse makes the only adopted child the sole executor of that household).
A May 2013 Ipsos poll found that out of over a thousand Japanese adult interviewees, 24% of respondents were in favor of same-sex marriage and another 27% supported other forms of recognition for same-sex couples. An April 2014 Ipsos poll found that 26% of respondents were in favor of same-sex marriage and that 24% were in favor of some other form of recognition for couples. A May 2015 Ipsos poll found 30% of respondents in favour of same-sex marriage and a further 28% in favour of some other form of recognition (meaning that 58% supported recognising same-sex couples in some form).
According to a survey by Nihon Yoron Chōsa-ka, conducted on 1 and 2 March 2014, 42.3% of Japanese supported same-sex marriage, while 52.4% opposed it. Another poll conducted by FNN in April 2015 showed that 59% supported the same-sex partnership certificate law proposed in Shibuya and 53% supported same-sex marriage. This was the first time a poll had found majority support for same-sex marriage. An additional poll conducted in November 2015 showed a 51% majority as supporting same-sex marriage, unions or partnerships. 41% were opposed. People under the age of 20 were overwhelmingly in favor of same-sex marriage (72% support), whereas people aged 70 and over overwhelmingly opposed same-sex marriage (24% support).
According to an opinion poll carried out by Dentsu in October 2018, 78.4% of Japanese in their 20s to 50s were in favour of same-sex marriage. Support was higher among women (87.9%) than men (69.2%), and was higher among younger respondents: 87.3% for people in their 20s, 81.2% for people in their 30s, 77.5% for people in their 40s, and 72.5% for people in their 50s.
The National Survey of Household Trends, a government survey that was carried out in 2018 and commissioned by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, asked Japanese married women about their views on legalizing same-sex marriage. 71.9% of respondents chose one of the two answers in favour of it. Levels of support were clearly different between the different age groups: 92.1% for married women under the age of 30, 89.5% for those between the ages of 30 and 39, 83.2% for those between the ages of 40 and 49, 73.5% for those between 50 and 59, 59.3% for those between 60 and 69, and 42.2% for those aged 70 and higher.
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