30% of regions in Japan with an LGBT partnership system have mutual agreements

This file photo taken in April 2021 shows local government leaders posing for a commemorative photo in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, after signing an agreement to simplify re-application procedures under their same-sex partnership systems. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — More than 30 percent of the 146 local governments in Japan that introduced a same-sex partnership system as of January 1 have also signed reciprocal agreements with other municipalities to simplify re-application procedures when LGBT couples are moving, according to a Kyodo News survey.

The move comes amid criticism that the need for a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender couple to dissolve a partnership and reapply each time they move is causing emotional stress.

Inter-municipal cooperation has accelerated since the cities of Fukuoka and Kumamoto in southwestern Japan signed such an agreement in October 2019.

As of January 1, five prefectures and 141 municipalities have introduced a same-sex partnership system, covering more than 40% of Japan’s total population.

However, often these partnerships are not recognized beyond their jurisdictions, and none of them are legally binding, which means that it is up to individual entities like hospitals and real estate agents to choose to accept or not.

In the context of reciprocal agreements between local authorities, the certificate and other documents issued when the couple first applied for partnership can also be used in their new municipality of residence.

The couple is also exempted from providing documents proving that they are not married to anyone else.

According to the survey, the number of municipalities having signed agreements with at least one other local authority amounts to two in 2019, 12 in 2020 and 46 in 2021.

Two additional cities in southwestern Japan – Ibusuki and Kagoshima – joined the list in 2022, bringing the total to 48 municipalities across 14 prefectures as of February 1.

All municipalities in Hyogo prefecture in western Japan and nearly all of those in Kanagawa prefecture south of Tokyo have signed agreements, including many on the southwestern main island of Kyushu establishing agreements between the prefectures.

Osaka Prefecture is in talks with seven of its cities that have already introduced a same-sex partnership system, and five municipalities in Saitama Prefecture are also considering an agreement.

“Cooperation with other local governments will help spread and raise awareness about the system, which will help sexual minorities improve their self-esteem,” said an official from Oi, a city in Kanagawa Prefecture that has signed reciprocity agreements with other municipalities.

But some local governments have encountered obstacles in reaching agreements due to the different scope and conditions of their respective systems.

The city of Takarazuka in Hyogo Prefecture, which limits its partnership system to sexual minorities, said it could not sign agreements with municipalities whose system also covers common-law marriages between heterosexual couples.

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