The Asian reporter. (Portland, Or.) 1991-current, February 18, 2019, Page Page 16, Image 16

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February 18, 2019
Japanese same-sex couples sue for equal marital rights
SEEKING EQUALITY. Kenji Aiba, left, and his
partner Ken Kozumi laugh during an interview with The
Associated Press in Tokyo. Kozumi and Aiba have held
onto a marriage certificate they signed at their wed-
ding party in 2013, anticipating that Japan would em-
ulate other advanced nations and legalize same-sex
unions. The couple has joined a dozen other same-sex
couples in Japan’s first lawsuits challenging the con-
stitutionality of the country’s rejection of same-sex
marriage. (AP Photo/Toru Takahashi)
By Mari Yamaguchi
The Associated Press
OKYO — Ken Kozumi and Kenji
Aiba have held onto a marriage
certificate they signed at their
wedding party in 2013, anticipating that
Japan would emulate other advanced
nations and legalize same-sex unions.
That day has yet to come, and legally
they are just friends even though they’ve
lived as a married couple for more than five
years. So they decided to act rather than
On Valentine’s Day, Kozumi and Aiba
joined a dozen other same-sex couples in
Japan’s first lawsuits challenging the
constitutionality of the country’s rejection
of same-sex marriage.
The 13 gay couples contend that the law
violates their constitutional right to
equality. They are demanding that the
government follow the example of many
other nations in guaranteeing marital
Ten Japanese municipalities have
enacted “partnership” ordinances for
same-sex couples to make it easier for
them to rent apartments together, among
other things, but they are not legally
“Right now we are both in good health
and able to work, but what if either of us
has an accident or becomes ill? We are not
allowed to be each other’s guarantors for
medical treatment, or to be each other’s
heir,” Kozumi, a 45-year-old office worker,
said in a recent interview with his partner
Aiba, 40. “Progress in Japan has been too
In a country where pressure for con-
formity is strong, many LGBT people hide
their sexuality even from their families,
fearing prejudice at home, school, or work.
The obstacles are even higher for
transgender people, who face extra
difficulties in a highly gender-specific
Resistance to allowing full gender
equality was evident in a recent Supreme
Court ruling upholding a law that
effectively requires transgender people to
be sterilized before they can have their
gender changed on official documents.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans-
gender, and Queer (LGBTQ) equal-rights
movement has lagged behind in Japan
because people who are silently not
conforming to conventional notions of
sexuality have been so marginalized that
the issue hasn’t been considered a human-
rights problem, experts say.
“Many people don’t even think of a
colleagues, or classmates may be sexual
minorities,” said Mizuho Fukushima, a
lawyer-turned-lawmaker and an expert on
gender and human-rights issues. “And the
pressure to follow a conservative family
model, in which heterosexual couples are
supposed to marry and have children, is
still strong.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his
campaigned to restore a paternalistic
society based on heterosexual marriages.
The government has restarted moral
education class at schools to teach children
family values and good deeds.
“Whether to allow same-sex marriage is
an issue that affects the foundation of how
families should be in Japan, which
requires an extremely careful examina-
tion,” Abe said in a statement last year.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has
repeatedly come under fire for making
remarks deemed discriminating against
LGBTQ people. In January, party veteran
Katsuei Hirasawa said “a nation would
collapse” if everyone became LGBTQ. Last
year, another ruling lawmaker, Mio
Sugita, was condemned after saying in a
magazine that the government shouldn’t
use tax money for the rights of LGBTQ
individuals because they are “not
But while the law and many lawmakers
lag behind, public acceptance of sexual
diversity and same-sex marriage has
grown in Japan. According to an October,
2018 survey by the advertising agency
Dentsu, more than 70 percent of the 6,229
respondents between ages 20 and 59 said
Some companies have adopted policies
to extend employee benefits to their same-
sex partners. A few women’s universities
have announced they will start accepting
male-to-female transgender applicants,
and some schools are allowing both boys
and girls to choose between trousers and
skirts. Increasingly, genderless public
toilets are becoming available for
Aiba feels a bit “scared” about going
public and is worried about possible
repercussions. But he and Kozumi decided
to act on behalf of all their peers “who are
too afraid of coming out because of
discrimination and prejudice that we still
“It will be our dream comes true if our
marriage certificate is accepted one day,”
Aiba said. “We want to make that happen.”
Pressures for change are mounting.
Japan’s refusal to issue spouse visas to
partners of same-sex couples legally
married overseas is a growing problem,
forcing them to temporarily live
separately. A group of lawmakers is
lobbying the Justice Ministry to consider a
special visa for them.
In August, the American Chamber of
Commerce in Japan, and its counterparts
from Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia,
and New Zealand, called for legalizing
same-sex marriages, saying Japan’ loses
out because talented LGBTQ people
choose elsewhere to work.
The primary goal of the lawsuit is to win
marital equality for same-sex couples. But
transgender people are also hoping for
such a change, which would eliminate the
need for anyone to be sterilized just so they
can get married.
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Fremont Bridge through Northwest
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Line 24 is just the start. Visit to see Line 24’s
route plus the other new ways to
go by transit rolling out March 3.