A reform bill to allow same-sex couples to live in a municipally-owned housing in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.

Nobuto Hosaka, director of Setagaya Ward

On June 22nd, the Congress of Setagaya Ward, Tokyo unanimously passed a reform bill to revise its municipal ordinance so that same-sex couples can live in municipal housing. Setagaya Ward will accept applications for municipal housing starting from this November.

Setagaya Ward, well-known for its active campaign of introducing same- sex partnership system, tried to pass a reform bill to change the requirements where applicants must live in municipal housing with family members only. Same-sex couples are not regarded as family in Japan, so the requirements denied same-sex couples the use of municipal housing system. Despite of the supporters’ effort, the reform bill was rejected on account of “the lack of awareness among the residents” last February.

After that, Setagaya Ward conducted a survey to find out whether the residents agree to allowing same-sex couples municipal housing or not. The result was about 57% of people are in favor of the proposal, which was about 10% higher than those against it.

On June 19th, the Congress of Setagaya Ward came to the conclusion that “they need to revise the system to openly accept LGBT people and offer equal access to municipal housing.” The bill was passed unanimously on June 22nd.

Municipal housing system was established right after World War II to provide enough places for families to live in and it had required residents to live with family members for many years. Same-sex couples have not been legally recognized as family yet in Japan, so same-sex couples were often rejected by the old requirements. The United Nations had often pointed out that the system was discriminatory and had demanded the revision of the requirements for nine years.

Five years ago, the Japanese government decided to abolish the requirements and asked all the local governments to follow suit, but about 86 % of them had kept the requirements and rejected applicants with non-family members until last year.

Under that circumstance, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo introduced same-sex partnership system that officially recognizes same-sex couples as “equivalent to marriage” two years ago. Shibuya Ward soon decided to allow same-sex couples who have a partnership certificate to live in municipal housing owned by Shibuya Wad. Iga City in Mie Prefecture and Naha City in Okinawa followed suit.

Setagaya Ward has become the 4th municipality that allows same-sex couples to live in municipal housing and the 2nd municipality that revised the requirements of municipal housing for the LGBT community in Japan.