Tokyo issues Japan's first same-sex partner certificates

Thu Nov 5, 2015 1:46am EST
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By Shiori Ito and Megumi Lim

JAPAN (Reuters) - Two Tokyo districts issued Japan's first certificates officially recognizing same-sex partnerships on Thursday, a major step forward for gay couples in a nation where being openly gay remains largely taboo.

The move may seem insignificant compared to the United States, which has made gay marriage legal in all 50 states, but just approving the measures earlier this year set off an unprecedented discussion on equality and has paved the way for other Japanese cities to consider similar steps.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has been all but invisible in Japan, and legally binding civil unions remain a distant dream.

Hiroko Masuhara and Koyuki Higashi arrived at city hall in the trendy Shibuya district early in the morning to collect the certificate that will allow them to rent an apartment, visit each other in hospital and gain a variety of other benefits as a couple.

"I am exhilarated that the city I am living has recognized my partner as my family," a smiling Masuhara told reporters.

Shibuya and Setagaya, considered the wealthiest of Tokyo's 23 wards, began issuing the certificates on Thursday. While the papers do not provide any legal recognition of same-sex unions, all agreed that it was an important beginning.

"I hope that this will be a step forward not only for Tokyo but for the whole of Japan to become a more comfortable place to live in, because there are LGBTs nationwide," said Higashi, although she said she still hadn't abandoned a dream of one day getting legally married.

Shibuya mayor Ken Hasebe, who ran for office on a pro-LGBT rights campaign, congratulated the couple. "It took a long time to get here," he said.   Continued...

Hiroko Masuhara (L) and her partner Koyuki Higashi hold their partnership certificate as they walk out from the Shibuya ward office after the ward office issued the nation's first same sex partnership certificates in Tokyo, Japan, November 5, 2015. REUTERS/Yuya Shino