TÖKYÖ — One of Tökyö’s major wards has become Japan’s first municipality to adopt a draft ordinance enabling it to issue certificates recognizing same-sex relationships as being almost equivalent to marriage.

The ordinance approved by the Shibuya Ward assembly took effect earlier this week, although the ward office still needs to stipulate in its regulations when to start issuing the “partnership certificates.”

The ordinance highlights the importance of gender equality and respect for diversity, citing the discrimination homosexual couples in Japan often face when looking for housing or when visiting their partners in hospitals because they are not relatives.

The ordinance calls for real estate firms, hospitals and other businesses to refrain from discriminating against same-sex couples. If they violate the ordinance and fail to comply with requests for changing their practices, their names will be disclosed to the public.

The certificate does not have any legal enforcement authority. The ward office describes the partnership recognized in the certificates as different from marriage as stipulated in Japan’s Constitution.

The ward’s initiative comes as municipal governments move to support the rights of sexual minorities in the country.

At a news conference last week, Toshitake Kuwahara, head of Shibuya Ward, said systems must change if there are problems with them, because they exist for the people. “It is the state that should extend warm help to sexual minorities,” he said.

Sadakazu Tanigaki, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, expressed concern about the ward’s move, saying the initiative would “touch the foundation of our social system.”
The ordinance passed by a vote of 6 to 2 at an assembly committee meeting. The two opposing votes came from the LDP members.


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