Ns News Online Desk: Miho Okada experienced the frustrating limits of measures introduced to protect the rights of same-sex couples when her lesbian partner was hospitalized with advanced rectal cancer in Aomori Prefecture. Although Okada, 36, and Shoko Usami are certified as being in a “same-sex union” at the local level elsewhere in the country, the hospital said that “only the patient’s relatives will be notified in an emergency.”
Okada contacted a lawyer for talks with the hospital operator, but it refused to change its position. Although dozens of municipalities are certifying same-gender partnerships, the central government has maintained its stance against recognizing same-sex marriages.
The lack of a national law or system protecting the rights of these couples has led to what Okada describes as “an inappropriate (situation) of being granted different rights in different areas.”
“We want more people to learn that whether the partnership program exists in a certain region is directly connected to life-relevant issues,” she said.Japan’s first program to officially certify same-sex partnerships was set up five years ago in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.
Since then, such mechanisms had been adopted at 50 other municipalities across the nation by the end of June, according to a survey conducted by the nonprofit organization Nijiiro Diversity and Shibuya Ward.
According to the survey, 1,052 same-sex couples have been certified under these systems. The total population of the 51 municipalities is about 34 million, accounting for 26.4 percent of Japan’s population.
Although these programs are not legally binding, businesses and medical centers in those areas have increasingly treated same-gender partners as “ordinary family” members in housing contracts and hospital visits.
However, these same-sex partnership programs are unavailable in the six prefectures of the Tohoku region, which includes Aomori Prefecture, and the three prefectures in the Hokuriku region.
Such certification systems are offered in only a limited number of prefectures in the Shikoku, Kyushu and Chugoku regions. The partnership mechanisms also cannot resolve the many difficulties that sexual minorities still face.
Same-sex couples are ineligible for income tax deductions like married couples, and it is impossible for them to share joint custody of children. Most private businesses and local governments do not allow sexual minority workers to take child-rearing or nursing care leaves.
Many lawsuits have been filed nationwide against the government, arguing that its refusal to recognize same-gender marriages violates “marital freedom” and “legal equality for all” guaranteed by the Constitution.