About 20 companies in Japan will start accepting “partnership certificates,” issued to same-sex couples by a nongovernmental organization, from July as a way of providing employees with spousal and familial benefits that are available to straight married couples, people familiar with the matter said Saturday.

Mizuho Financial Group Inc. is among companies participating in the initiative, with certificates to be created by Famiee Project. The program is expected to raise awareness of the difficulties LGBT couples face in a country where same-sex marriage is not legally recognized.

“We want to start changing where we can through the private sector, so that families of same-sex couples can be recognized as normal,” said Famiee founder Koki Uchiyama.

Local authorities have started issuing partnership certificates in an attempt to smooth the path, as much as possible, for sexual minorities that face obstacles in gaining equal access to public housing or in making medical decisions for their partners.

However, municipal partnership certificates are not legally binding and only apply to residents within their respective municipalities, leaving many lesbian and gay couples unable to offer proof of their relationship status.

That leaves businesses struggling to verify the status of those without municipal certificates even when company rules include benefits for same-sex couples.

Mizuho, for example, has offered spousal and familial benefits to employees in same-sex relationships since 2016, such as family care leave and monetary wedding gifts. But the firm has had difficulty providing the benefits to those unable to prove their relationship status.

“We have used certificates of residence, but Famiee certificates will be even more reliable evidence for same-sex couples,” a Mizuho official said. “We want to foster an inclusive work environment for diverse people.”

The application and verification process for Famiee certificates is done digitally, with couples using a smartphone app provided by the NGO.

Famiee verifies the couple’s identity in much the same way a bank does when opening a bank account online, and couples must show copies of their family registry to prove they are both “single.”

Personal information is kept secure using blockchain, the record-keeping technology behind cryptocurrency transactions.

Famiee hopes that the digital certificates can be used by the network of partners it is trying to build among large corporations and providers, which is currently comprised of insurance companies, banks, hospitals and others that share its mission.

“Municipal certificates have great significance. But because they vary by municipality, it creates a problem when private companies try to use them,” said Masakazu Yanagisawa, a gay advisor to the NGO and an employee at a foreign investment bank.

Yanagisawa, 42, also noted that many couples hesitate to apply for them since they must be physically present at municipal offices to do so but are still not ready to go public about their relationship.

“Everything is done online on Famiee so it will become easier for couples to get partnership certificates,” he said.

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