Photo of gay couple Hiroko Masuhara (left) and Koyuki Higashi, courtesy of The Japan Times.
While Japan is not necessarily intolerant of homosexuality, same-sex couples are not afforded legal protections. That may be set to change, however, thanks to an incredible move out of the conservative country's capital today. In a landmark vote, officials in the Tokyo district (or ward) of Shibuya voted overwhelmingly to recognize same-sex unions as the "equivalent of a marriage."
According to the BBC, Shibuya "is a trendy area known for its creativity and liberalism." Its mayor, Toshitake Kuwahara, publicly praised the decision, saying: "The purpose is to realize a society where everyone can live in hope."
The certificates, which are expected to be issued beginning in July, will promise the same rights to hospital visits and housing that heterosexual couples currently enjoy. However, it has been described by BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes as more of a "moral obligation" than a legal one. Businesses will not be penalized for failing to recognize same-sex couples, but their names will be posted on Shibuya's website. The local government has also announced plans for an intense push on LGBT education within the area.
In an interesting twist, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has come out strongly against the new ordinance, lives in Shibuya. Hopefully seeing the good that it does for the area--officials are expecting a spike in LGBT tourism--will help him evolve on the issue. Gay Star News reports that, already, two more Tokyo districts and the city of Yokohama are considering similar legislation.