Same-sex marriage in Japan
Same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan. As of 2017[update], six cities and city wards have legalized same-sex partnerships, which provide some of the benefits of marriage. Koseki household registration allows for some next of kin legal rights. Most polls conducted since 2013 find that a slight majority of Japanese people support the legalization of same-sex marriage or partnerships.
On April 1, 2015, Shibuya ward in central Tokyo announced that it would offer same-sex couples special partnership certificates which are stated to be equivalent to marriage. While these licenses are not legally recognized as marriage certificates, they are still a useful tool in civil matters such as hospital visitation rights. The Shibuya ward office began accepting applications on 28 October 2015.
In response to this action by the Shibuya ward office, the "Special Committee to Protect Family Ties" (家族の絆を守る特命委員会, kazoku no kizuna wo mamoru tokumei iinkai) of the federal ruling Liberal Democratic Party was formed in March 2015 to discuss the matter. An officer from the Ministry of Justice who was invited to comment has stated that the action by Shibuya is legal because the certificate issued is not a marriage certificate and the current Japanese legal code does not prohibit the "partnership" of same-sex couples.
In July 2015, Tokyo's Setagaya ward announced that it would be joining Shibuya in recognizing same-sex partnerships from 5 November of the same year. On 30 November 2015, the special city of Takarazuka, located in Hyōgo Prefecture, announced it would issue partnership certificates to same-sex couples, beginning 1 June 2016. In December 2015, the city of Iga in Mie Prefecture made a similar announcement with certificates starting on 1 April 2016. On 22 February 2016, Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, announced it would begin issuing partnership certificates to same-sex couples on 8 July 2016, making it the first core city in Japan to recognize same-sex couples.
In April 2016, a LGBT rights group began a campaign for the official recognition of same-sex couples in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido Prefecture. The group took its petition to the Sapporo City Government in June 2016. In December 2016, officials announced that Sapporo planned to draw up guidelines by March 2017. In March, the City Government announced that partnership certificates will be issued to couples, beginning on 1 June 2017. It will enable couples to become recipients of each other's life insurance money, among other benefits. According to the city, about 1,500 people expressed opinions welcoming the program, while some opposed it. Sapporo became the first designated city in Japan to recognize same-sex couples.
- Shibuya, Tokyo (2015)
- Setagaya, Tokyo (2015)
- Iga, Mie (2016)
- Takarazuka, Hyōgo (2016)
- Naha, Okinawa (2016)
- Sapporo, Hokkaido (2017)
The first couple to receive a partnership certificate were Koyuki Higashi and Hiroko Masuhara in Shibuya. They were personally congratulated by Mayor Ken Hasebe. On 5 November 2015, the day Setagaya began recognising same-sex partnerships, 8 couples went to the Setagaya ward office to apply for partnership certificates.
By April 2017, 17 same-sex couples had been issued partnership certificates in Shibuya.
On March 27, 2009, it was reported that Japan has allowed its nationals to marry same-sex foreign partners in countries where same-sex marriage is legal. Japan does not allow same-sex marriage domestically and has so far also refused to issue a key document required for citizens to wed overseas if the applicant's intended spouse is of the same legal sex. Under the change, the Ministry of Justice instructed local authorities to issue the key certificate—which states a person is single and of legal age—for those who want to have same-sex marriages.
Since May 15, 2012, Tokyo Disney Resort has allowed symbolic (not legally recognized) same-sex marriage ceremonies in its Cinderella's Castle hotel. On March 3, 2013, its first same-sex marriage was held. Koyuki Higashi married her partner, who was only identified by the name Hiroko.
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." Previous to the current constitution, a couple in Japan could marry only if their respective head of household (the father, or in the absence of a father, the eldest son) consented to the union. As a result, arranged marriage was the dominant form of marriage. Those couples who could not obtain permission had to elope and stay in common law marriage.
The purpose of Article 23 of the new constitution was to assert freedom of consenting adults to marry, and to explicitly establish the equality of both sexes in marriage. The wording defined marriage as a union of husband and wife. Some legal scholars argue that because the intent behind the article was not in reference to same-sex marriage, it need not apply in legalising same-sex marriage. However, conservative lawmakers as well as legal scholars who take a literal approach to constitutional interpretation argue that such argument is a stretch.
We need to eliminate lifestyle difficulties for same-sex couples. A prerequisite to achieving this goal is dealing with Article 24 of the Constitution.
Extending the institution of marriage to same-sex couples was not anticipated under the current Constitution. It is an issue that concerns the very core of family values and, I believe, one that requires extremely careful consideration.
In Japan, each citizen is registered through the koseki system whereby an individual is registered as a part of household (while in the West, a birth certificate can act as a proof of identity). Koseki registration performs a somewhat similar role to marriage in the West as it endows a member of the same koseki legal power (as next of kin) in dealing with civil matters such as inheritance, hospital visits or the right to organise a funeral. Therefore, registering each other as a part of the koseki works as a substitute for Western-style marriage. As a consequence, Japanese gay couples, in the absence of same-sex marriage or civil partnership laws, often use adoption procedures to register themselves as belonging to the same household (where the older partner legally adopts the younger partner, which in absence of a spouse makes the only adopted child the sole executor of that household).
A May 2013 Ipsos poll found that out of over a thousand Japanese adult interviewees, 24% of respondents were in favor of same-sex marriage and another 27% supported other forms of recognition for same-sex couples. An April 2014 Ipsos poll found 26% of respondents were in favor of same-sex marriage and 24% were in favor of some other form of recognition for couples. A May 2015 Ipsos poll found 30% of respondents in favour of same-sex marriage and a further 28% in favour of some other form of recognition (meaning that 58% supported recognising same-sex couples in some form).
According to a survey by Nihon Yoron Chōsa-ka, conducted on 1 and 2 March 2014, 42.3% of Japanese supported same-sex marriage, while 52.4% opposed it. Another poll conducted by FNN in April 2015 showed that 59% supported the same-sex partnership certificate law proposed in Shibuya and 53% supported same-sex marriage. An additional poll in November 2015 showed a 51% majority as supporting same-sex marriage, unions or partnerships.
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