“Same-Sex Partnership: After an Incomplete Certificate What’s Next?

There is an accumulation of local governments issuing same-sex partnerships certificates. Although the same-sex partnership system brings recognition of same-sex couples, it is still not the endpoint when it comes to equality. As Voice Up Japan, we interviewed people from Nagoya, a city that is going to adopt same-sex partnership in 2021, to understand what the same-sex partnership system is and what it implies for LGBT people in Japan.

Written by Elif Erdogan

Translated to Japanese by Ayşe Haruka Oshima Açıkbaş

Same-sex partnership certificate is issued by 60 municipalities (2020). And, there will be 16 more municipalities that are going to recognize same-sex partnership in Japan from October 2020. Same-sex partnership certificates are the beginning point for equality, but it is not the same as marriage. Although a same-sex partnership certificate grants you recognition by the local government, the rights you get are different regarding the municipality, meaning there is no set of rights, and it is not legally binding. According to Marriage For All, an NGO that has been working on legalizing same-sex marriage in Japan, you cannot inherit property if your partner passes away without a will, if your partner is a foreigner they cannot get a spousal visa, you cannot visit your partner if they are hospitalized and there is no law between your partner and your child. Along with many other points, the same-sex partnership system is still unequal compared to heterosexual marriage. 

Figure 1 Number of Local Governments in Japan Recognizing Same-Sex Partnership
The figure shows that there have been 1301 people getting the partnership certificate by 30 September 2020. There have been 60 local governments employing same-sex partnership systems by 1 October 2020, which covers 29.6% of the population.

“It is only a medal, that certifies you as a couple,” says Junichi[1], Allister’s husband whom they got married in Tokyo’s British Embassy since same-sex marriage is legal in the UK. “There are no legal rights until Japan recognizes marriage is from abroad in the country… It is his home country, but it still doesn’t recognize his marriage” says Allister. “Accepting the minimum rights at the moment. It is not the final point it is just the beginning” says Junichi on the same-sex partnership certificates.

[1] Names are changed to Allister and Junichi to privacy reasons. プライバシー保護のため仮名を使っています。


“Each has different regulations and it is confusing,” says Junichi regarding same-sex partnership system in different municipalities. “For example, Okinawa and Sapporo, they have same-sex partnership systems but if one of the couples lives in one of the prefectures, and the other partner lives in the other prefecture, they cannot be partners,” says Junichi pointing out that same-sex partnership certificates work only if you are living in the same city. “If we have to pay for the certificate, we probably will not pay it. We won’t gain anything with Nagoya’s same-sex partnership certificate,” says Junichi emphasizing that the partnership will not bring much change for them.

Figure 2 The top 10 local governments that have the highest number of people who got a same-sex partnership.
Data provided by the Nijiro Diversity shows the numbers of people who got same-sex partnership certificates in 10 local governments by 30 September 2020.


On 2019 February,  a same-sex couple has sued Japan in the Nagoya District Court for not having equal rights when it comes to marriage. “I think it is the issue of not being able to take care of your partner,” says Prof. Takashi Kazama when he reflects on that day’s arguments (意見書). Prof. Kazama is a professor at Chukyo University and the vice president of the Proud Life NPO. “As Proud Life, we have collected signatures for petitions to recognize partnership system in Nagoya and submitted it to legislators and we have been lobbying,” says Prof. Kazama.

 “When your partner is sick you can’t be next to them. When your partner is not able to decide on their own (such as in a hospital situation) you cannot decide for them. You cannot borrow public housing since you are not considered to be a family and you cannot get a loan under the same name. If you have a child, there is no law between your partner and your children. If the partner has HIV and passes away, they cannot leave an inheritance if they haven’t written a will. If your partner is a foreigner, they can’t get spouse visas and might be sent back their home country” says Prof. Kazama showing the hardships of not having a same-sex marriage. “It is a really big change for Japanese society since same-sex couples were invisible and now, although little, their rights are recognized,” says Prof. Kazama regarding the significance of the same-sex partnership system.

Prof. Takashi Kazama is a professor at Chukyo University located in Nagoya. He is also the vice president of NPO Proud Life

The legalization of same-sex marriage will also liberate transgender people in Japan. “If we assume that there is an opposite-sex couple who is married to each other, and one is going to change their gender, they will become a same-sex marriage couple. Since same-sex marriage is not legal, this couple has to get divorced if they want to change legal sex. Therefore, they either have to decide whether they should get divorced or not go through the transition” explains Prof. Kazama.

“If the case wins then the law will change and grants same-sex marriage,” says Junichi. “However, there are some nations such as Taiwan that do not have equal same-sex marriage laws compared to heterosexual marriage.” Junichi expresses since Taiwan does not recognize the same-sex marriage between a Taiwanese and a non-Taiwanese whose country’s legislation does not legalize same-sex marriage.


“Majority of the politicians’ answers (regarding LGBT rights) are positive, however, it is to get popular among voters,” says Esaman, who is an owner of an LGBT bar and who has been doing activism for LGBT rights in Nagoya. He has surveyed the candidates’ policies on LGBT rights and surprisingly most of the political candidates have given positive responses four years ago “Although the public administration is positive, the LGBT people (当事者) do not raise their voice in their local governments. Doing lobbying is important. If you go to your city hall, things will change. People don’t know how to use politicians, they are receiving tax money to listen to our voice, we elect the politicians” says Esaman emphasizes the importance of lobbying and getting connected with our local politicians to change the current situation.

Esaman at Nagoya Lesbian Gay Revolution Plus (NLGR+) in 2012

“There won’t be any change until there are women in politics. You need more women in Japanese politics for other issues to get any level of air-time because women started it not men” says Allister reflecting on the UK’s legalizing same-sex marriage due to the increase of female politicians in the parliament. “You should be lobbying. But you still got to do the protest but that is not enough” says Allister.


But is it enough after legalizing same-sex partnership or even same-sex marriage? “Even though things are getting more open than before, society did not change at all. I used to have a customer, and when she was in high school she was open about her lesbian identity, but she said after getting into the society, and start working, she started to hide her identity” says Esaman showing that society is still not open for LGBT people in Japan, especially the workplace. “I want people to know that sexual minorities are not far away from you. They might be your relatives or your children, so it is important to have this talk. You can’t say claim that you don’t have any LGBT friends” expresses Esaman.

“The gender binary and heteronormative norms is the root (of the discrimination against LGBT people in the society),” says Prof. Kazama. “In order to have a change, we shall educate the children at a young age to show there are a variety of sexual orientations. Also, there should be changes at the corporate level too. Many sexual minorities are working in companies, but if they get married the company will know that they are homosexual. So even if same-sex marriage is legalized in Japan there won’t be many same-sex couples getting married as long as there are discriminations and prejudices in companies. ” says Prof. Kazama.

To follow more activities of Marriage for All 結婚の自由はすべてのひとへ. For more please click here.

Proud Life’s vision is to create a society that sexual minorities can live with hope and create a society that recognizes the diversity of sexual orientations. The mission is to support and empower sexual minorities. Make networks and raise awareness for sexual orientation and fight against discrimination against sexual minorities. Every Monday, Proud Life has a consultation hotline. They now use LINE and social media for consultations. Please click here to access the hotline information.