Ibaraki Prefecture will become the 24th local government in Japan to offer partnership certificates on 1 July.
It is the first of Japan’s 47 prefectures to implement the system, according to the Japan Times.
Now, 24 local governments have opted to issue certificates which give limited rights such as public housing, hospital visitation rights, the right to make medical decisions for the partner, and special benefits given by employers.
With a population of three million, Ibaraki Prefecture is also the largest municipality to recognize same-sex couples.
‘This is a matter of human rights, and we must work swiftly in order to eliminate discrimination and prejudice,’ said Ibaraki Gov. Kazuhiko Oigawa at a news conference.
Partnership certificates in Japan
Conservative Japan does not allow same-sex marriage.
But, since 2016, local municipalities have been providing couples with limited recognition in government hospitals and housing.
Shibuya Ward and Toshima Ward both enacted ordinances, which means they were voted through by the local government.
Sapporo became the first city in the country to recognize same-sex relationships in 2017.
In the first five months of 2019 alone, the number of local governments with a ‘partnership system’ has grown from 9 to 22, according to the Tokyo Review.
LGBTI research group Nijiiro Diversity has gound 426 couples acquired a partnership document as of 17 April this year.
But, considering tens of millions of people live across the 20 municipalities offering the certificates, very few LGBTI couples have registered.
Lawyer for the Marriage For All Japan group, Takeharu Kato, previously said certificates had limited appeal.
‘The partnership system is playing great roles in making LGBTQ people and their life visible and promoting public acceptance, but the influences are limited because it does not have any legal privileges’ Kato told Gay Star News.
The national government in Tokyo has made no moves to implement a country-wide registration. Japan is the only country in the G7 not to recognize same-sex unions.
But, in recent months, there have been significant moves towards equal marriage in Japan.
Two courts in Japan in April held initial hearings in landmark legal action against the government’s failure to recognize same-sex marriages.
Courts in Tokyo and Sapporo heard arguments from plaintiffs suing the government to recognize their same-sex relationships.
Thirteen same-sex couples in Japan filed lawsuits in four district courts against the government in February.
The five female and eight male couples challenged local administrations that denied them marriage certificates. They are also seeking damages of US$9,000.
The couples also argue the government’s stance on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, opposition lawmakers submitted a same-sex marriage bill to the country’s parliament.
The Constitutional Democratic Party and Japanese Communist Party submitted a gender-neutral marriage bill.
They seek to alter Article 24 of the Constitution. It 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.’