On June 1st, Sapporo City, Hokkaido launched “Sapporo City Same-Sex Partnership Declaration System” to officially recognize same-sex couples living in the city. Under the new partnership system, the city issues a copy of the partnership certificate to same-sex coupes who have submitted a written oath of their partnership. Anyone, who is twenty or older and living in the city, or planning to do so, can apply for the certificate. Although it is not legally- binding, the city has set the guidelines and will allow same-sex couples to receive life insurance payouts, visit their partner in hospital, and make a lease agreement. The city hopes same-sex couples will be eligible for the same benefits as heterosexual couples’.
There are only five local municipalities that issue same-sex partnership certificates in Japan. Shibuya and Setagaya Wards in Tokyo, Iga City in Mie Prefecture, Takarazuka City in Hyogo Prefecture, and Naha City in Okinawa. Sapporo City has become the first major city that recognizes same-sex partnerships in Japan.
Sixteen couples had already applied before its launch on June 1st. Four of them visited the city office on the first day. The couples signed a written oath, declaring their partnership and received the certificate.
“We’re happy. We’ve been waiting for this so long. Finally we made it. It’s an official certificate so we feel safe. This is all about us being happy, but I hope more people will take action for the recognition of their relationships, ” a lesbian couple said.
On the same day, Makoto Okuda, a gay man who received the certificate expressed his joy, saying “We made it finally. We are so happy. We used to think about our relationship negatively, but now the city recognizes us and we’re starting to feel it’s okay to be openly in love with my partner. We want to take advantage of this certificate when necessary. We hope the day will come someday when we can introduce each other to our family and friends without fear.”
Ken Suzuki, the representative of “Dometic Partnership Sapporo,” a support group for recognition of same- sex partnership in Sapporo City, expressed his joy, saying “The door of hope has opened right before us. We will keep moving forward. I hope more LGBT people and their allies will work together for the bettering of LGBT rights in Japan. I also hope Sapporo City will be more generous to life diversity and attract many more young people.”
“I pride myself as a person who grew up in Sapporo. Thank you so much for your support and messages.” Ken Suzuki made a statement on the city’s partnership system.
“It is important for us to make this city generous to a variety of people including sexual minority. We will work hard so that Sapporo citizens will accept this new system soon,” Mayor Akimoto said.
On May 13th, an LGBT support group “Community Center Nijiiro Hokkaido” made a public speech on the street.
Approximately ten LGBT people and their allies gathered and distributed leaflets holding flags that said “We’re here. Right next to you.” They read aloud the messages from LGBT people who had waited long for the partnership system.
After the launch of same-sex partnerships in Sapporo City, Marukichi Nisshindo Printing Company, Sapporo publicly announced its new in-house trainings about sexual diversity for the employees to achieve better understanding of LGBT people.
More people are taking actions to end discrimination and prejudice.
Mr. Kuwaki, a former executive committee member of Sapporo Rainbow March, is planning to host LGBT seminars for people who work for local businesses. With his years of experience as an activist, he is going to host a seminar for a local business that introduces nursing homes to the elderly next month.
“I wanted to break free from the idea that ‘being gay ends up misery.’ That pushed me into activism. I talked about gay circles and political movements with my mother patiently so that she could understand me. It took years for me to finally make my mother understand and hear me. When I visited my mother in hospital two years ago, she apologized to me for not having understood that we had different values and priorities. At that moment, I was so glad that I hadn’t given up. Since then, I have been pushing myself so that she can see me live out and proud as gay. I worked as a member of executive committee of Rainbow March Sapporo from 1996 to 2013. The mayor attended it every year from 2002. Everything I did until today led to the establishment of same-sex partnerships, I believe.“ said Mr.Kuwaki in the interview published by The Asahi Shimbun.