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In what LGBTQ+ people in Japan hope is a harbinger of marriage equality, Tokyo's city government began issuing partnership certificates to same-sex couples Tuesday.
The certificates allow the couples' unions to be recognized for services such as housing and health care, but they do not confer any rights when it comes to inheritance, adoption, or spousal visas, the BBC reports.
Japan is the only country in the G7, an association of countries with advanced economies, that does not have marriage equality. Several smaller municipal governments, including parts of Tokyo, have already offered partnership recognition that confers some but not all the rights of marriage. As of Tuesday, the certificates are available throughout Tokyo.
Polling indicates that a majority of Japanese citizens support marriage equality, but there has been resistance from politicians. And this year a court in Osaka upheld the nation's ban on same-sex marriage, after a court in Sapporo had ruled the ban unconstitutional previously.
LGBTQ+ activists tried to push for greater equality ahead of the Tokyo Olympics last year, but little has changed. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida "has been cautious" about campaigning for marriage equality legislation, The Guardian notes.
As of Friday, 137 partnership applications had been submitted. Anyone who lives and works in Tokyo is eligible. One of the couples, identified only by their first names, Miki and Katie, told Agence France-Presse that obtaining the certificate will relieve some of their worries. "My biggest fear has been that we would be treated as strangers in an emergency," Miki said.
She added that the availability of partnership recognition would help advance acceptance. "The more people make use of these partnership systems, the more our community will feel encouraged to tell family and friends about their relationships, without hiding their true selves," she said.
Activist Soyoka Yamamoto, one of the first to obtain a certificate, told media outlets, "We can accelerate efforts to create a society where the rights of sexual minorities can be protected and made more equal."