Good news today for supporters of same-sex marriage in Japan! Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward is moving towards administering marriage certificates for same-sex couples. If the proposed plan is enacted, it would take effect on April 1 this year, making Shibuya the first ward in Japan to recognize same-sex marriage.

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When discussing social issues in Japan, it’s not uncommon to hear some claim that Japan is a few decades behind other advanced countries. Whether or not that’s true is something that you’ll have to decide for yourself, but Shibuya Ward’s government is getting ready to (potentially) set it among the most progressive of advanced nations.

According to Shibuya’s outline of the initial budget for fiscal 2015, the ward is considering a plan which would create “partnership certificates” for same-sex couples as part of their initiative to advance equality and respect for sexual minorities. An outline of the initiative, which would also make efforts to increase understanding of members of the LGBT community, is in the first section of the budget and would also establish a committee for the advancement of a society with sexual and gender equality and diversity.

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The certificates are, of course, getting the most attention, since they have the potential to be a great source of solace for same-sex couples in Japan. As we mentioned in 2013 when Yodogawa Ward in Osaka became the first municipality in Japan to declare support for the LGBT community, same-sex couples face significant systemic discrimination in Japan. Perhaps most distressingly, since they are not legally recognized as married couples, gay men and women may be barred from seeing their partners when hospitalized or from becoming each other’s legal guardian (for example, in the case of an incapacitated senior).

The certificates would not, sadly, be recognized by the Japanese government, but Shibuya Ward would ask local businesses, landlords, and others to recognize the certificates and treat same-sex couples as legally married.

Details of the plan are still being worked out, though the certificates would only be available for those 20 years old or older. This would actually be a bit later than for heterosexual couples, who can marry when 18 or 16 for men or women, respectively, according to Japanese law. Couples will be able to dissolve their partnerships as well, like a divorce, if they want.

Not only is this a potentially great move for same-sex couples in Japan, but it could be a huge boon for Shibuya Ward itself. As Hiroko Tabuchi, a New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner, pointed out, this could certainly have economic advantages for Shibuya as well.

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While it’s just one ward in one city and the plan has not yet been enacted, it certainly is exciting for the Japanese LGBT community.

Sources: Shibuya Ward, Nikkei Shinbun, Wall Street Journal
Image: Wikipedia (Guwashi)