Tokyo’s Shibuya ward has made plans to issue certificates recognizing gay unions as ‘relationships equivalent to marriage.’
The plan was outlined in a draft statute in the ward’s 2015 budget, which is expected to be unveiled today (12 February) and presented to the municipal assembly in early March.
If the Shibuya assembly approves the statute, the ward will become the first local government in Japan to recognize gay couples. The plan could come into effect as early as 1 April, the start of the fiscal year, and the ward office said it would begin issuing certificates in that year.
However, the plan is expected to draw opposition from conservative assembly members, who are likely to perceive it as a threat to traditional family values.
The constitution defines marriage as ‘based only on the mutual consent of both sexes,’ but a ward official told Kyodo news agency that the certificate plan would be ‘a completely separate system’ from marriage.
Although not legally binding, the certificates would raise awareness of LGBTI rights and could have a knock-on effect in other local and central government decisions.
Gay couples often face discrimination when renting apartments together or visiting their partners in hospital because they are not seen as relatives. Under the new plan, gay residents aged 20 or older will be able to complete a contract designating each other as guardians.
Yasuhiko Watanabe, professor at Kyoto Sangyo University graduate school, said the recognition of gay couples by local government could lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage.
‘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,’ he said.