The Japanese city of Fukuoka just became the fifth to offer “proof of partnership” certificates which acknowledge same-sex couples and help them secure limited local rights like hospital visitation and getting an apartment together. While it’s an important step forward, Japan is still far ways away from nationalized marriage equality. Let’s examine why.
This week, Fukuoka joined the cities of Iga, Takarazuka, Naha and Sapporo in its recognition of same-sex couples. In fact, the first same-sex couple to receive recognition in Fukuoka was a trans man named Anri Ishizaki who got a certificate with his female partner Miho Yamashita (pictured above). Because Japan only allows people to legally change their gender following sexual reassignment surgery, Ishizaki is still legally recognized as female.
Outside of the five aforementioned cities, the districts of Shibuya and Setagaya within Tokyo also recognize same-sex couples via “proof of partnership” certificates. In fact, they were the first Japansese regions to grant such certificates beginning in July and November 2015, respectively.
However, these certified couples are not legally recognized by the Japanese federal government because Article 24 of the Japanese Constitution 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.” That is, the constitution only recognizes heterosexual marriages.
Furthermore, Articles 731 and 737 of the Japanese Civil Code both specify heterosexuality as preconditions for marriage. While Japan allows its citizens to enter same-sex marriages in countries overseas, these aren’t legally recognized by the Japanese federal government either.
Japanese LGBTQ activists have told Hornet that the marriage equality movement in Japan has been reluctant to team up with gay bars out of “respectability politics,” a fear of being connected to the unsavory drinking, gogo boys, drag queens and occasional sex work associated with gay bars.
One openly lesbian Japanese politician said she thinks it will take years for the country to legalize marriage equality because the country seems reluctant even to pass LGBTQ non-discrimination protections.
Nevertheless, Japan has nearly zero instances of anti-LGBTQ violence, its politicians rarely vocalize anti-LGBTQ sentiment (even when they disagree with issues like same-sex marriage) and its regional government and businesses have increasingly recognized the importance of same-sex unions and LGBTQ rights.