2023年6月20日火曜日

LGBTQ + 'FAMILYSHIP' SYSTEMS EXPAND IN JAPAN AMID ABSENCE OF NATIONAL LAW

LGBTQ + 'FAMILYSHIP' SYSTEMS EXPAND IN JAPAN AMID ABSENCE OF NATIONAL LAW

@Jackie San


It’s been less than a decade since the first common-law partnership system was introduced in Japan.


In the time since, hundreds of municipalities across the country have followed suit, offering a way to recognize same-sex couples in the eyes of the local governments. Still, Japan is the only one of the Group of Seven countries that has not legalized same-sex marriage or established a ban on discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals at the national level, a difference that is looming over the upcoming G7 meeting in Hiroshima this month.


There are at least 271 municipalities across Japan that have partnership systems according to Marriage for All Japan. But what’s not so common — yet growing — is the number of municipalities that have installed “familyship” systems.


Such systems add recognition of same-sex partners’ children as family members, enabling access to public services typically offered to married couples and families, such as being treated as family at hospitals, when applying for public housing or dropping kids off at school.


At least 40 municipalities have established familyship systems so far. Together, partnership and familyship systems have come to cover over 65% of Japan’s population in less than a decade.


In 2021, Adachi became the first ward in Tokyo to begin a familyship system alongside its partnership system.


Satoko Nagamura, director of Kodomap, a nonprofit supporting and connecting LGBTQ+ people with or looking to have children, was among those who had pushed for the enactment of both familyship and partnership systems in the ward.


Nagamura and her partner provided some of the 300 opinions received by Adachi Ward following public outcry over comments by a local politician who stated the ward would “cease to exist” if rights of sexual minorities were legally protected.


The introduction of the familyship system has changed the landscape significantly for parents like her, Nagamura said.


“The administration recognized us as a legitimate group and provided us with support, creating a sense of security and peace of mind,” she said. “So I think it became easier to live there than harder to live there. There are many different types of people living in the community, but now we have a place to go if we have issues (regarding families).”


Naomi Iizuka, the new director of Adachi’s Diverse Society Promotion Division, agreed that the establishment of the system has had a large impact.


“It was a big moment because these are things that these individuals struggled with for a long time and were finally able to do what comes as a normal privilege for others,” she said.


The hundreds of comments received by the ward ultimately led to an opinion exchange meeting, which highlighted that there was strong support for the extended recognition of families and not just couples, Iizuka said.


Haru Ono is co-chair of Nijiiro Kazoku, a nonprofit organization that serves as a network for LGBTQ+ families across Japan.


Ono and her partner, who have three children from previous marriages, are recognized as partners by Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, which was the first to enact a partnership system in Japan alongside Shibuya Ward in 2015. Setagaya installed its familyship policy just last year.


In preparing to recognize her children as both her’s and her partner’s, Ono found that while Setagaya’s system allows those considered legal adults to be certified as a couple’s children, the broader system enacted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government does not.


The introduction of these systems have certainly made life easier for Ono and her family, but she is one of many who recognize their inadequacies. Without the backing of a national law, same-sex couples are left without rights provided to heterosexual couples such as tax deductions, joint custody and being able to be legally deemed a parent in all circumstances despite not having a blood relation, as well as protection against discrimination.


“We can prove our relationship at least to the ward office, and in that sense things have improved a lot,” Ono said. “However at the same time, the lack of guarantee is still an issue.


“Of course we’re grateful for the systems, and in the absence of law, local governments are doing their best, but the (central) government needs to have a proper discussion.”


In the fight for legal protection at the highest level, Ono has gone as far as becoming one of 13 couples from across Japan to file lawsuits against the government.


Couples like Ono and her partner are taking action, she said, while lawmakers are still stuck on yearslong consideration of a bill aimed at promoting “understanding” of the LGBTQ+ community, rather than action on behalf of it. That is, despite over 64% of people in Japan already saying they favor recognizing same-sex marriage.


“In the current state, it seems like they can’t even have a discussion yet,” she said.


While many municipalities have introduced systems to recognize same-sex couples and families, partly as a way to draw people to or keep them in the area amid Japan’s declining birthrate, the delay in legal action at the national level feels disconnected from the reality where Japan’s marriage rate is declining and the divorce rate is higher than in past decades, said Hokkaido University associate professor Hyunjoo Naomi Chi, who studies minority communities in East Asia, including Japan’s LGBTQ+ population and related public policy.


“People have different ideas of what a family should be,” Chi said. “There’s no one right family and yet, in Japan unfortunately, the system doesn’t allow for those families to become families.”


While there is little action at the national level, resulting in the details of the systems being left up to each municipality, Chi said the heightened awareness is still a positive outcome for Japan’s LGBTQ+ community.


“Now there’s 60% coverage, that’s more than half, right? And now, municipalities are understanding that there is a demand to at least recognize people as a family and as partners,” Chi said. “It’s always best to be more visible, and the only way you can raise awareness is if people actually meet these people in their same community.”


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@Jackie San

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