On Tuesday 7 December 2021, Kyodo News reported on Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s announcement that the Tokyo Metropolitan government is set to establish a system that effectively allows same-sex marriage in Japan’s capital starting from the next fiscal year in April 2022.
Japanese LGBTQ+ rights activists were quick to hail the move as a huge step in their fight for equality in the only G7 country that does not fully recognise same-sex marriage. Some local wards in Tokyo such as Shibuya’s, as well as some other local municipalities, had already introduced a similar plan that officially recognised same-sex couples but critics say LGBTQ+ couples still face disadvantages in areas such as taxation even under such partnership arrangements.
A local court in Sapporo in northern Japan ruled in March 2021—the first ruling in Japan on the legality of same-sex marriage—that same-sex couples not being able to marry is “unconstitutional.” The new partnership system will allow same-sex partners to register their relationship and gain some of the privileges enjoyed by married couples, such as being allowed to rent places to live together and gain hospital visitation rights.
Although it falls short of a legal marriage, Tokyo’s move to adopt the partnership system is seen as an important step towards legalising same-sex unions in a nation where the Constitution still defines marriage as based on “the mutual consent of both sexes.”
Activists have long lobbied for the whole capital city to adopt the system, and stepped up such efforts ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which had been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic until this summer. Takeharu Kato, a lawyer in charge of the landmark court case held in Sapporo, told Reuters that the government may have shown restraint in expanding the partnership system due to “the fact that a lot of ruling party lawmakers are reluctant about this.”
Proving Kato’s point, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told parliament that introducing same-sex marriage would require “prudent consideration.” He continued, “The introduction of a system allowing same-sex marriage would be an issue that goes straight to the very core of how families ought to be in Japan.”
Homosexuality has been legal in Japan since 1880, and the country is relatively liberal when compared with some other Asian nations. The only current location in Asia with legalised same-sex marriage is Taiwan.