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.
A second ward, Setagaya” is said to follow Shibuya’s lead. It is NOT marriage, but ‘equivalent’ to marriage. I think it’s a good step towards marriage equality.
Tokyo’s Setagaya ward has said it may follow Shibuya’s lead and recognize gay relationships as ‘equivalent to marriage,’ days after its neighbour announced a vote on the issue.
Many Countries Have “Partnership” Arrangements
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.
Japan’s Opinions are Changing:
Shibuya Ward will be Cheered as the first Ward!
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 Shibuya ward, expressed hope that the measure will resolve difficulties in their daily life and help change awareness about their problems. This couple got media attention when Tokyo Disney World hosted their ‘wedding.’ in March 2013.
Here is what they said to the media.
When Japanese gay rights activist Koyuki Higashi contacted Tokyo Disneyland last year to ask if they would host her wedding to her girlfriend it sounded like an awareness-raising stunt, but in fact she did dream of a white wedding at Disneyland and last Friday the dream came true.
‘My partner Hiroko and I just held a gay wedding at the Tokyo Disney Resort. Even Mickey and Minnie are here to celebrate with us!’ said Higashi in a tweet, accompanied by a photo of the new wives with the Disney characters, that was retweeted 6,000 times.
ONLY THE STATE GOVERNMENT CAN MAKE MARRIAGE CHANGES
Local wards or governments cannot resolve major decisions such as marriage. This has to be tackled by the state government. The constitution defines marriage as ‘based only on the mutual consent of both sexes,’ but a Shibuya ward official told Kyodo news agency that the certificate plan would be ‘a completely separate system’ from marriage.
What’s the Point?
These two wards are raising are raisng 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 ward 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.