Tokyo to start offering gay couples "marriage" certificates

By Daniele Pestilli on February 14, 2015
Same-sex couple holding hands. (CC)

Tokyo's Shibuya ward announced a plan to start issuing certificates to same-sex couples next month, a move which is intended to protect the rights of sexual minorities amid an increasingly globalizing nation, Asahi News reports. This system, which will not yet be legally binding, is the first of its kind in Japan and with the impending 2020 Olympics, is expected to gradually extend across the country in coming years.

Same-sex couples above the age of 20 will be eligible. Among other things, they will need to provide a deed agreeing to be each others' guardians. These certificates will grant same-sex couples the same rights as married couples when entering hospitals as well as in the workplace. According to the same article, the names of companies or businesses that oppose this ordinance will be publicized.

One netizen commented, “what I find interesting is that businesses that oppose the ordinance will be publicized. People can file complaints about someone opposing same-sex marriage. That's quite remarkable.”

A short clip on TBS News explains that gay couples in Japan have often been denied the right to purchase homes together. This certificate aims to resolve this problem as well.

Although Japan's constitution currently recognizes only heterosexual marriages as legal, the Chief of Shibuya said he believes the change in his ward will engender change in the rest of the country as well.

In fact, it seems other parts of Japan have already started to change.

Zenryu Kawakami, a 36-year-old priest in Kyoto's historic Rinzai sect Shunkoin temple has already started “marrying” same-sex couples since he was first asked to do so by a lesbian Spanish couple five years ago, Asahi News reports. He was quoted saying:

It is a Buddhist belief that every living creature has the potential to attain Buddhahood, which I interpret as every individual has the right to pursue happiness.

He decided to do so after a night out at a local bar with a friend who revealed to Kawakami that he was homosexual. As the priest had experienced racism first-hand for being Asian while attending university in the United States, he decided to do his best to help those from diverse backgrounds live in a world that embraces diversity. As Kawakami tells his newly married couples, “Everything in this world is transitory, including a person's life. In order to achieve a lasting engagement to each other, each side must accept changes in the other as they are.”

A poll posted on internet giant Yahoo!'s website asks, “What do you think about Shibuya ward's same-sex couple certificate?” As of February 14th, 56.5% of voters (24,121 people) voted in favor of the plan, while 43.5% (18,586 people) voted against it.