Calls for same-sex mar­riage le­gal­iza­tion grow­ing

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend | Discrimination -

CALLS are grow­ing in Ja­pan for same­sex mar­riage to be le­galised so such cou­ples can en­joy the same ben­e­fits that het­ero­sex­ual cou­ples do.

While six lo­cal gov­ern­ments cur­rently recog­nise same-sex part­ner­ships, en­sur­ing cou­ples the same treat­ment and en­ti­tle­ment to lo­cal ser­vices as mar­ried cou­ples, most still face dis­crim­i­na­tion when search­ing for pub­lic hous­ing, vis­it­ing a crit­i­cally ill part­ner in hos­pi­tal or in­her­it­ing prop­erty on the grounds that they are not fam­ily.

The US Supreme Court recog­nised same­sex mar­riage as le­gal and deemed state-level bans un­con­sti­tu­tional in 2015, while the con­sti­tu­tional court of Tai­wan ruled this year that the Civil Code, which stip­u­lates that mar­riage is the le­gal union be­tween a man and a wo­man, is un­con­sti­tu­tional.

“Among the Group of Seven in­dus­tri­alised na­tions, only Ja­pan has not yet in­tro­duced a same-sex mar­riage or same-sex part­ner­ship sys­tem at the state level,” said Ken Suzuki, a law pro­fes­sor at Meiji Uni­ver­sity. “It is a shared aware­ness among ad­vanced na­tions that ex­clud­ing same-sex cou­ples from the le­gal mar­riage frame­work con­sti­tutes dis­crim­i­na­tion against les­bians and gays.”

Suzuki, who is also a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Hokkaido Uni­ver­sity in Sap­poro, is gay and played an ac­tive role in cam­paign­ing for such sys­tem in the ma­jor north­ern city.

Sap­poro now of­fi­cially recog­nises same-sex part­ner­ships be­tween les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der cou­ples. The city also cer­ti­fies part­ner­ships be­tween het­ero­sex­ual cou­ples with gen­der-identity disor­der.

Suzuki said he had not nec­es­sar­ily taken a pos­i­tive stance to­ward in­tro­duc­ing same­sex­mar­riage “as I have a neg­a­tive im­age against mar­riage it­self,” re­fer­ring, for ex­am­ple, to the “un­fair” in­sti­tu­tion of women tak­ing the sur­name of the hus­band in most cases in Ja­pan.

Still, he said, the in­tro­duc­tion of a same­sex part­ner­ship sys­tem in Sap­poro and other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, in­clud­ing the Tokyo wards of Se­ta­gaya and Shibuya, com­bined with le­gal­i­sa­tion of same-sex mar­riage in other coun­tries, “have brought about pos­i­tive knockon ef­fects to so­ci­ety.”

Such moves have raised pub­lic aware­ness about LGBT rights and con­trib­uted to chang­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory at­ti­tudes, while help­ing raise LGBTS’ self-es­teem, he said. “The ex­is­tence of LGBTS had been ig­nored, but these de­vel­op­ments have grad­u­ally led the pub­lic to recog­nise us.”

Un­der­pin­ning his com­ments, sev­eral cell­phone op­er­a­tors, life in­sur­ers as well as hos­pi­tals treat same-sex cou­ples as fam­ily, while the city of Osaka of­fi­cially recog­nised two men as fos­ter par­ents this year.

Suzuki also be­lieves the in­tro­duc­tion of same-sex part­ner­ships or mar­riage will be the first step to­ward chang­ing the con­ven­tional fam­ily sys­tem and gen­er­at­ing “di­ver­si­fied forms of fam­ily.”

“As same-sex cou­ples do not bear bi­o­log­i­cal chil­dren,” their part­ner­ship will prompt changes in the con­cept that men and women marry and give birth to save their fam­ily names, he said.

“Also, it could be ac­cepted that el­derly peo­ple, re­gard­less of their gen­der, live to­gether as a fam­ily and take care of each other by, for ex­am­ple, sign­ing a let­ter of con­sent for surgery or in­her­it­ing prop­er­ties of their part­ners,” he added.

Takeshi Shi­raishi, a pub­lic school teacher in Tokyo who has lived with his male part­ner for 25 years, agreed.

Shi­raishi said in the past he and his part­ner were charged dou­ble when rent­ing an apart­ment as they were not con­sid­ered fam­ily, adding, “We could not ap­ply for a bank loan when we bought a house.”

“We hope we can con­tinue liv­ing to­gether in peace...,” Shi­raishi told a re­cent sym­po­sium in Tokyo. “In that case, we ex­pect the re­main­ing sur­vivor to legally main­tain what we have gen­er­ated to­gether.. .it is an is­sue re­gard­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­teed equal­ity be­fore the law.”

The sym­po­sium, or­gan­ised by the Ja­pan Fed­er­a­tion of Bar As­so­ci­a­tions, drew more than 100 peo­ple and was broad­cast in sev­eral cities through the JFBA net­work.

Shi­raishi, who is in his late 40s, said he had been hes­i­tant to come out to his par­ents and his col­leagues, but de­cided to join the event “as I want peo­ple to know that we are here, and I want to be a role model for young peo­ple.”

Aya Kamikawa, a Se­ta­gaya Ward assem­bly mem­ber who worked for in­tro­duc­ing the same-sex part­ner­ship sys­tem there, said le­gal­i­sa­tion of same-sex mar­riage was re­alised in most coun­tries af­ter lo­cal gov­ern­ments had recog­nised such cou­ples.

“The de­vel­op­ment in six mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in Ja­pan is ex­pected to ad­vance to the next stage at the state level,” said Kamikawa, a trans­gen­der wo­man. “The le­gal sys­tem, in­clud­ing mar­riage, should be equally open to ev­ery­one, re­gard­less of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der identity. Ev­ery­one should be guar­an­teed the equal right of choice, oth­er­wise it would be dis­crim­i­na­tory.”

For those work­ing to im­prove LGBT rights, a re­cent re­mark by se­nior law­maker Wataru Takeshita of the rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party that same-sex part­ners of state guests should not be in­vited to ban­quets hosted by Em­peror Ak­i­hito and Em­press Michiko came as a shock.

Takeshita was re­ported as say­ing he is op­posed to hav­ing same-sex part­ners at the ban­quet ta­ble with the im­pe­rial cou­ple be­cause it “doesn’t fit with Ja­pan’s tra­di­tion.”

“Mr. Takeshita may not be able to as­sume that there are LGBTS in Ja­pan,” said Suzuki. “He may not be able to as­sume it is pos­si­ble that a Ja­panese prime min­is­ter may bring a same-sex part­ner to a ban­quet some day.”

– Kyodo

Meiji Uni­ver­sity law pro­fes­sor Ken Suzuki speaks in an in­ter­view on No­vem­ber 28.

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