Feb 9, 2016

News: Local Thoughts on Same-Sex Marriage in Japan

News: Local Thoughts on Same-Sex Marriage in Japan photo

We need to start this with a note of sorts; this video post was scheduled on our editorial ‘to do’ list.  As fate would have it, we’ve been lucky enough, at around the same time, to have received some blog posts from Rei of Takurei’s Room - a resource on all things LGBT in Japan.  Rei recently wrote about the state of LGBT awareness in Japan here.  Now, it might seem like we’re jumping on the bandwagon of Rei’s terrific post.  We’re not (it’s just timing), but if it looks like we are, then so be it.  It’s a bandwagon we’re more than happy to join.

It also occurs to me (the one writing this), that I’ve waded into this without enough of a clue as to what I’m doing.  I was going to treat this with my usual irreverence but then I read this opener from an article in the Washington Post (May 27, 2015) …

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are still officially considered criminals in roughly one-third of countries worldwide, and homosexuality is punishable by death in seven countries. 

… and realised that as a straight, white, boring-as-the-color-beige, able-bodied, 30 something, native-English speaking, middle-class, university-educated, … male, I’m emphatically under qualified to write anything about struggle, injustice, or exclusion.  But then again, I am a foreigner (in Japan), so that perhaps qualifies me for something.  And I’m curious, too … about other stuff, that is (OK, so a bit of irreverence).

First of all, the video.  Here we ask the question to local people in Tokyo, What are your thoughts on same-sex marriage?  We use the term 同性結婚 - same-sex marriage.  You can’t do this in Japan (same-sex marriage, that is).  Shibuya-ku and Setagaya-ku are referred to as recognising same-sex partnerships.  We use recognition for lack of any other succinct term.  As Rei says in his post though, the certificates themselves hold almost no value, as rental organizations and hospitals are not legally obliged to respect the document.  That’s right, this recognition is not legally binding, so I’m wondering if any of the recipients thus far have found them of practical value in civil matters.  

As a follow-up question, we asked our interviewees if they feel there is an appetite for a change in policy on same-sex marriage.  Have a look for yourselves. 

At the start of the video, we made the perhaps sweeping statement that Japan might be behind the times on a number of social issues.  So let’s look more at this one.

Japan and the rest of the word on the LGBT scene

Pew Research Center conducted a series of polls of the theme, Global Views on Morality.  Under the heading Homosexuality they asked people the question, Do you personally believe that homosexuality is morally acceptable, morally unacceptable, or is it not a moral issue? Across 40 countries polled, Japan sits at No.10 as ‘most accepting’ - 31% unacceptable / 38% acceptable / 25% not a moral issue. Ghana could be said to be the least accepting.  Spain, the most.  See the full results here.

No. 10 doesn’t sound too bad, does it?  But look at the percentages again; 31% say unacceptable.  In Spain it was 6%.  This survey was conducted in 2013, with 700 participants.

Back to The Washington Post piece, which reports on a survey into the life satisfaction of gay men. 115,000 participants around the world were surveyed about their respective society’s view on homosexuality, how they feel they are treated by other people, and how satisfied they are with their own lives.  In this survey, Iceland got top slot.  Japan is at 43 (out of 127 countries).  Uganda, at the bottom. All the results are here.


Diversity consultancy Out Now looked into intended tourist destinations for LGBT travel in 2015 (part of the organization’s LGBT2020 research initiative).  For cities, Tokyo ranked 12, New York 1.  Japan didn’t feature in the Top 10 Countries (of which USA, France, Australia were the top 3).  Of cities in Asia/Oceania, Tokyo ranked 3.  Sydney 1.  See the full charts here

Not sure what we can read into this.  Japan is expensive and remote for a lot of tourists, in whatever context.  Although this perhaps marks Tokyo as a particularly LGBT friendly destination, given that it managed to make the list.  I don’t know.  

Signs of change

Gay partners may get spousal discounts on car insurance (NIKKEI ASIAN REVIEW, Jan 7, 2016)

So, major insurers in Japan are eyeing up the possibility of giving the same discounts enjoyed by heterosexual married couples, to those same-sex couples who submit certificates as mentioned earlier in this piece.

Those for whom the glass is half full will look on this as progress, of a kind.  The half empty crew will likely see this as a brutal (albeit bland - car insurance, discounts … ) indicator of just how much ground is yet to be covered.  But maybe this is how progress works, step by step.  A part of me wants to laugh though, that the insurance industry might be the moral judge over, well, anything.  

In our interview, the people kind enough to talk with us were all young.  This was probably a subconscious choice (I’ve yet to perfect my method of approach for more senior passersby.  In fact, I’m some way off).  They all responded positively in terms of change for Japan.  This needs to be nurtured, because currently they face stiff opposition.  Back to Rei’s post,

After this news broke (Shibuya Ward’s ‘partnership certificates’), Prime Minister Abe immediately shut down the idea of same-sex marriage legalisation in Japan, claiming that the constitution doesn’t allow it.

Always the biggest opposition to change, the old dudes in the suites.  Although, who could blame them?  These people are richer than avarice, spend most of their time in fantastic palaces, and never have to interact with anyone that they don’t like (or at least who isn’t just another version of themselves). They are usually quite happy with the way things are.

But hang on, I’m going to tip a little more water in my glass.  If the powers that be managed to reinterpret the constitution as regards to national security, maybe they can do the same for their own LGBT citizens.  Here’s hoping, and waiting.

In the meantime, feel free to tell us about LGBT Japan and whatever resources you know of.  And, of course, go take a look at Takurei’s Room.

Twitter: City_Cost_Japan


Image (cropped to fit): m-louis Flickr License



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