Japan Recognizes Same-Sex Marriage (Sort of)

A ward in a small Japanese town just handed out the country's first gay marriage certificate, although it's not exactly a huge LGBT victory quite yet. 

by Sam Blum
Getty Images

Proponents of same-sex marriage worldwide have a slight cause for celebration, as the small Japanese district of Shibuya handed out its first marriage certificate to a same-sex couple in the country’s history on Thursday.

The certificate, however, is not binding, meaning that the legal status of the female couple in question, Hiroko Masuhara, 37, and Koyuki Higashi, 30, isn’t the same in terms of government benefits afforded to straight couples in the country.

That’s not stopping a groundswell of optimism from taking over the collective conscious of Japan’s same-sex marriage advocates, many of whom claim the country’s first gay marriage certificate amounts to an enormous symbolic victory that starkly calls into question the country’s constitution.

Japanese politics, especially of the social variety, are steeped in conservatism, although the idea of legalizing gay marriage has been a prospect Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has considered publicly, albeit in a terse, skeptical sense.

Last February, Japanese media reported that under no circumstances was Abe inclined to amend his country’s constitution to allow for same-sex marriage; however the public has been increasingly moving away from Abe’s views.

A poll conducted earlier this year by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper found that 44 percent of respondents supported same sex marriage while 39 percnt held an opposing view.

While Twitter has yet to reflect any feelings of widespread revelry on the streets of Shibuya, same-sex marriage advocates have been expecting this for most of the year: Officials with Shibuya’s municipal government first announced that same-sex marriage licenses would be issued back in February, while another district, Setagaya, announced plans to issue licenses to same-sex couples by November of this year. Setagaya’s mayor reportedly had supplied five same-sex couples with marriage papers as of Thursday afternoon.

The non-legally binding nature of the marriage license issued to Masahura and Higashi cannot ward off any discrimination that the couple may face from government or corporate entities. As there is still no legislation in place to safeguard gay couples from discrimination in Japan, couples routinely complain of being denied access to routine facets of everyday life, such as seeing loved ones in hospitals and apartment tenancies.

Officials in Shibuya say they’re aiming to change this however, by listing the hospitals and real estate firms which discriminate against the LGBT community on a government website.

Amid a flurry of camera snaps and emphatic smiles outside of Shibuya’s government headquarters on Thursday, Higashi, an actress, said: “As a first step, I hope this will spread across Japan.”

“Heterosexual couples and same-sex couples are really very much the same. It is unfortunate that there are many things that cannot be done and cannot be recognized because the number (of gay couples) is small.”

“I hope the day will come soon when there will be equality in society.”

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