• Kyodo, JIJI, Bloomberg


Authorities in Ibaraki Prefecture said Monday they would start issuing partnership certificates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples from July 1, in an effort to address inequalities with legally married couples.

A total of 22 municipalities across the country have launched similar systems to recognize partnerships between members of sexual minorities since the wards of Shibuya and Setagaya in Tokyo began issuing them in 2015, but Ibaraki will be the first of the nation’s 47 prefectures to do so.

“This is a matter of human rights, and we must work swiftly in order to eliminate discrimination and prejudice,” said Ibaraki Gov. Kazuhiko Oigawa at a news conference.

To be recognized, applicants must be at least 20 years old and live in the prefecture, as well as meeting other requirements, according to Ibaraki Prefectural Government.

While the certificates are not legally binding, they will allow the couples to rent at prefecture-run housing or giving consent for surgeries at the Ibaraki Prefectural Central Hospital, among other situations in which they have historically faced difficulties.

In November, Ibaraki created a comprehensive plan for promoting diversity, and in March its assembly passed an ordinance that bans discrimination against sexual minorities — the second prefectural authority to do so after Tokyo.

Members from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who make up the largest faction in the prefectural assembly, were reluctant to introduce the partnership system, claiming that public understanding of such moves is not yet adequate. But Ibaraki went ahead with the policy after launching in April a study group on support for LGBT people. The group urged Oigawa to introduce the plan in a report issued earlier this month.

In addition, the prefecture is set to review gender categories on a variety of documents and establish a consultation service on LGBT issues. It will also conduct a survey on LGBT issues.

Earlier this month, major opposition parties submitted to the Diet a bill that would permit same-sex marriage — just weeks after the government of Taiwan became the first in Asia to legalize gay marriage.

The bill, which adopts neutral language — with the terms “party of marriage” used in place of “husband” and “wife” — is unlikely to go far in the Diet, where the ruling LDP has barely budged on moves to advance civil rights for LGBT people.

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