Eight couples in Tokyo’s Shibuya and Setagaya wards were on Thursday issued with certificates recognizing their same-sex partnerships as equivalent to marriage on the first day of the long-awaited policy change.

As local leaders heralded the milestone, advocates hope it will trigger further discussion about revising nationwide laws.

Although the papers are not legally binding, hospitals and businesses such as real estate firms are requested to treat certificate holders in the same way as married couples.

Shibuya Ward enacted its ordinance on same-sex partnerships in March, stipulating that businesses who fail to comply can be publicly named.

Setagaya has no such disclosure requirement in its policy, which was created in July.

In Shibuya Ward, the first couple to receive the certificates were Koyuki Higashi, 30, a former member of the all-woman Takarazuka Revue troupe, and 37-year-old entrepreneur Hiroko Masuhara.

“I want many people to know that same-sex couples are around you,” Masuhara said. Higashi added, “This is a big first step forward.”

They were congratulated by Shibuya Mayor Ken Hasebe.

Couples applying for the certificate must be at least 20 years old and residents of Shibuya Ward. Before the application, they have to make a notarized document stating that their relationship is based on love and mutual trust.

The Shibuya Ward Office, which began accepting applications on Oct. 28, had received one application as of Wednesday.

In Setagaya Ward, seven same-sex couples received their partnership certificate on Thursday.

It was a day of celebration for Yumiko Takashima, 45, and Sachiko Takano, 44, a transgender male sign language instructor. The two have lived together in Setagaya for 17 years.

“I really appreciate Setagaya Ward for recognizing us as a family,” said Takashima, a sign language interpreter.

“My (deaf) partner is prone to injury. But only family members could sign a surgical consent form. I know he is my family, but generally our relationship had not been (officially) acknowledged,” Takashima said.

“But with this official certificate with the mayor’s name on it, I hope the hospital will be more tolerant (toward our partnership).”

During a news conference Thursday, Setagaya Mayor Nobuto Hosaka expressed hope that the move will be a step toward stamping out discrimination against same-sex couples.

“Today is just a small first step. But I believe it will lead to similar movements in municipalities, and trigger national-level discussions to revise the law,” he said.

“I will continue to make efforts to widen the understanding (of people who are in sexual minorities) from this piece of nonbinding paper and shed a light on the future.”

Another male couple, Tsukasa Nakagawa, a 42-year-old photographer, and Yukiya Terai, a 26-year-old food researcher, said they hoped the initiative by the Tokyo wards will trigger further social change.

“As I am from a suburb of Yamaguchi Prefecture . . . I struggled to gain understanding from my parents. That moment, I felt the reality” that the majority of people, especially in rural areas, are not so generous toward sexual minorities, Nakagawa said.

But he said he believed the move will increase nationwide recognition toward the existence of sexual minorities and lessen discrimination.

Information from Kyodo added

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