The city of Iga, Mie Prefecture, has announced it will start issuing certificates recognizing same-sex partnerships starting in April, Japan’s third municipal government and the first outside Tokyo to take such a step.
The decision was announced Tuesday at a meeting of the municipal assembly.
Assembly members said they decided to take the step in the hope of stamping out discrimination against same-sex couples and ensuring that their rights are protected.
Iga has regularly organized events and lectures aimed at raising awareness on issues surrounding sexual minorities.
“We were aware of the statistics announced last year by the advertising company Dentsu showing that 7.6 percent of Japan’s population identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender,” a municipal official told The Japan Times during a phone interview Wednesday.
He was referring to a survey of 70,000 people aged 20 to 59 released in April, in which 1 in 13 respondents across Japan said they are LGBT. That was a 2.4 percent increase compared with the results from Dentsu Inc.’s previous online survey conducted in 2012.
“We concluded that if the figures are reflected here, presumably hovering around 5 to 7 percent, we need to do our utmost to protect the rights of such minorities,” the official said.
The fact that Shibuya and Setagaya wards in Tokyo introduced similar policies last year inspired them to take the step, he said.
Medical facilities and businesses, including real estate firms, will be asked to honor the nonbinding certificates, thus granting the holders hospital visitation rights, which are limited to family members, and the ability to jointly rent apartments as married couples.
Iga City Hall will begin issuing the certificates in early April.
To be granted the status, applicants will be required to be at least 20 years old and reside in the city. They will also be required to submit a copy of their resident registry and documents certifying they are single, along with a written declaration.
Shibuya Ward became the first municipality in Japan to adopt the policy recognizing same-sex partnerships. The ward enacted an ordinance in March 2015 stipulating that businesses failing to comply with it can be publicly named.
Setagaya Ward in July announced it would join Shibuya in recognizing such partnerships as equivalent to marriages and both wards began issuing certificates in early November.