OSAKA - The city of Osaka has officially recognized a same-sex couple as foster parents, becoming the first municipality in the nation to do so, according to municipal and central government officials.
The city government formally recognized two men in their 30s and 40s as foster parents of a teenage boy who has been under their care since February. The couple asked to remain anonymous.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Wednesday there is “no precedent” for a same-sex couple being certified as foster parents.
The city granted the their request to become guardians after determining they understood the foster care system and had the financial wherewithal to raise a child.
Support has been growing for protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and municipal governments are gradually recognizing same-sex partnerships as equivalent to marriage.
Traditionally, only married couples or individuals are allowed to become foster parents. Members of the LGBT community have been eligible to foster children, but only as individuals.
“I am happy we became foster parents (and recognized) as a single household, not just as individuals,” the older of the two men said, adding the boy is now “living a comfortable life as he talks about his school and friends.”
The man said he thought it is important for a child to “have an adult who gives affection on a one-on-one level and affirms his or her presence.”
It has been about two months since the couple started acting as the boy’s foster parents. He goes to school every day from home and receives home-cooked meals when he returns, the man said.
“The boy may feel puzzled to live with people who were not with him when he was in an early age,” he said. “But we hope to become the ones who think of him first and can be relied on when he is in need.”
Previously, a female couple in the Kanto region were recognized as eligible to become foster parents, but only individually. They raised the one child together after each was granted custody.
The gay couple from Osaka consulted the city’s child consultation center in autumn 2015 about becoming foster parents.
They attended lectures, training and reviews by the center, as well as screening by the city’s social welfare panel. The couple was officially recognized on Dec. 22, 2016, as foster parents with guardianship of a child under 18.
There is no law excluding same-sex couples from being foster parents. But as of March 1, 2015, the 3,704 foster homes nationwide comprised 3,216 married couples and 488 single-parent households, government data shows.
Compared with other countries where it is more commonplace to see gay and lesbian couples fostering children, Japan lags because many LGBT applicants are turned away at the door.
A support group for same-sex couples welcomed Osaka’s decision and called for creating an environment where anyone can become foster parents if they can raise children with affection.
As of March 2016, there were about 45,000 neglected or physically abused children in need of foster care, according to the welfare ministry.
The central government also set up a “family homes” program in 2009 where children live in small group homes with multiple foster carers. While the government recommends raising children in a homelike environment, only 17.5 percent children in need of homes were able to do so as of March 2016, compared with 30 percent to 70 percent in the United States and major European countries in 2002.
“The places that can accept children will increase if there are various types of foster parents, and not just male-female couples,” said Megumi Fuji, who heads Rainbow Foster Care, which supports allowing same-sex couples to become foster parents.
According to Fuji, many same-sex couples looking to become prospective parents have been rejected by public authorities. They are told, “Children will never be fostered” by same-sex couples or “couples of friends are not accepted.”
“It is very small-minded to think that only couples of men and women can realize an ideal family,” Fuji said. “Whether they have an aptitude for raising children is important.”