Tokyo to recognize same-sex unions but not as legal marriage

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s capital has announced it will start recognizing same-sex partnerships to ease the burdens faced by residents in their daily lives, but the unions will not be considered legal marriages.

Support for sexual diversity has grown slowly in Japan, but legal protections are still lacking for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Japan does not legally recognize same-sex marriages, and LGBTQ people often face discrimination at school, work and at home, causing many to hide their sexual identities.

Rights groups had pushed for the passage of an equality act ahead of last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, when international attention fell on Japan, but the bill was quashed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s conservative governing party.

The Tokyo metropolitan government unveiled a draft plan on Tuesday to accept registrations starting in October from sexual-minority couples seeking certificates of their partnerships. Same-sex couples are often barred from renting apartments together, hospital visits and other services available to married couples.

The Tokyo government said applicants will be limited to adult residents of the capital but will include foreign nationals. The recognition of partnerships is not the same as a marriage certificate, it said.

The purpose is “to promote understanding among Tokyo residents about sexual diversity and to reduce inconveniences in daily lives surrounding sexual minorities in order to create more pleasant living conditions for them,” it said in a statement.

The plan covers the entire capital. Tokyo’s Shibuya district in 2015 became the first Japanese municipality to issue non-legally binding partnership certificates to same-sex couples. About 200 other municipalities across Japan, or about 12% of the total, have since taken similar steps, according to advocacy groups.

A number of couples are fighting in courts for the right to marry. The Sapporo district court ruled last year that Japan’s failure to recognize same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Taiwan is the only Asian nation or territory that has legalized same-sex marriage.

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