Japan’s first same-sex marriage certificate was issued to Koyuki Higashi and Hiroko Masuhara on Thursday, November 5, in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward.
Dressed in smart business attire and holding rainbow pinwheels, Higashi, 30, and Masuhara, 37, raised up their marriage certificate, the first of its kind according to CNN, and smiled for cameras twenty minutes after their same-sex union was made official on Thursday morning.
“I am exhilarated that the city I am living has recognized my partner as my family,” Masuhara told reporters, per Reuters.
Ken Hasebe, the Mayor of the Shibuya ward in Japan told reporters, “It took a long time to get here.” Hasebe ran on a pro-LGBT rights platform for the mayoral office, reports Reuters.
Shibuya’s legislators were the first to vote in favor of granting marriage certificates to LGBT couples in March while the second ward to recognize same-sex unions, Setagaya, followed a few months later. Both Shibuya and Setagaya began issuing the certifiates on Thursday.
The former mayor of Shibuya, Toshitake Kuwahara, who held the office during the voting in March had said, per The Associated Press, “This is the reality. The purpose is to realize a society where everyone can live in hope.”
Hope is precisely what these new certificates are offering despite their shortcomings. There are still several limitations for same-sex couples living in Japan, even in the two wards currently granting certificates. Despite “recognition and protection from some local governments, Japan still has no national laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination. Coming out can mean getting fired, evicted or denied healthcare,” CNN reports.
Though there are guidelines on how to get a new same-sex marriage certificate in Japan – those who are over 20 years old who must promise to live together and love one another by signing an officially notarized document – the certificates are more of a step-forward in showing the Japanese can grant LGBT marriage rights, instead of implementing those rights with legal support.
The Japanese marriage certificate, though official, appears to be more of a guideline to businesses on how to treat LGBT couples with the wards’ blessings, but businesses are not legally obligated to follow it.
“I hope that this will be a step forward not only for Tokyo but for the whole of Japan to become a more comfortable place to live in,” Higashi said, per Reuters, “because there are LGBTs nationwide.”