February 26, 2015 Practice Points

Japan Takes First Step Toward Gay Rights Movement

By Minla Kim

Despite growing social acceptance of homosexuality in Japan, the country has yet to provide any legal rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) individuals. That may soon begin to change, however, as Shibuya Ward, a district in Tokyo, has announced that it is drafting a new statute that would grant "proof of partnership" certificates to same-sex couples.

General affairs official Shigeru Saito said that although the partnerships would not be legally binding, the statute would be an opportunity to educate the general public not only about gay rights, but also the rights of other sexual minorities. Another Shibuya official commented, "The true effectiveness of the planned certificate remains uncertain. We hope our efforts will shed further light on various issues that individuals in the [gay] community face."

Ken Hasabe, a ward assembly member, proposed the bill after learning that approximately five percent of Tokyo residents are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. LGBT rights have gained notoriety in Japan as a result of both the same-sex marriage debate in the United States and the recent public statements by several of Japan's lawmakers and actors that they are gay. Perhaps seeing this as the right time for lawmakers to act, Mr. Hasabe expressed that his desire in proposing this legislation is to reduce discrimination in housing and health care, areas in which LGBT residents have often long faced discrimination in Japan.

According to Mr. Saito, the ward assembly will vote on the new statute in early March. If it passes, it will become effective on April 1 and the certificates will be issued sometime in the fiscal year 2015. While one ward assembly member has expressed that he hopes this new legislation will bolster the standing of gay people at the national level, same-sex marriage currently remains unrecognized by law in Japan, where marriage is constitutionally defined as "a union based on the mutual consent of parties from both sexes."

Keywords: litigation, minority, trial, Japan, gay rights, LGBT, same-sex couple, same-sex marriage

Minla Kim is with Goldberg Segalla in Buffalo, New York.


Copyright © 2016, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).