Same-sex Partnership System in Japan
What is a Partnership System?
In Japan, same-sex marriage is not legally recognized, but some municipalities have established a “partnership system” that accepts declarations from same-sex couples. In 2015, the Shibuya Ward Assembly in Tokyo enacted an ordinance to issue Shibuya Ward Partnership Certificates for the first time in Japan. As of April 2023, over 270 municipalities have introduced partnership systems.
If same-sex couples choose to live in Japan, they might find it more convenient to reside in municipalities that have implemented the partnership system. Although the specifics can vary by municipality, applying for this system results in the issuance of certificates and cards.
Benefits of the Partnership System
Unlike marriage, the partnership system is not legally binding because it is currently established independently by municipalities. Therefore, it lacks the legal force of same-sex marriage and instead depends on the recognition of the relationship by local governments such as cities or prefectures. As a result, the benefits obtained through the partnership system can vary from one municipality to another. Here are some of the common ones:
**Housing Loan Services**
Some major mega-banks are now offering the option of taking out a joint housing loan, even if they are not legally married.
Mitsui Sumitomo Bank, as part of its efforts to promote LGBT understanding and support sexual minorities, expanded its definition of spouses for joint liability-type housing loans to include “common-law spouses” and “same-sex partners.” They started offering housing loans tailored for same-sex partners in February 2020. [Source: Mitsui Sumitomo Bank](https://www.smbc.co.jp/aboutus/sustainability/employee/diversity/lgbt/)
Mizuho Bank [Source: Mizuho Bank] (https://www.mizuhobank.co.jp/release/pdf/20171019release_jp.pdf?rtbn=fb180117) has also introduced similar policies, recognizing partners with Shibuya Ward’s partnership certificates as spouses for family pair repayments and income aggregation since July 2017.
**Access to Public Housing**
Furthermore, more municipalities have started to permit access to public housing for same-sex couples and others. One of the qualifications for residence at public housing is having “relatives” currently living together or planning to live together. Many municipalities are now treating seme-sex partners similarly to relatives, allowing same-sex couples to meet the residence criteria. To be recognized as “relatives,” it was previously necessary to have a marital relationship or be registered as family members. However, now even same-sex couples can meet the eligibility criteria for residency in those municipalities.
**Beneficiaries for Life Insurance**
As a general rule, the designated beneficiaries for death insurance are typically “spouses or blood relatives within the second degree.” However, some insurance companies now allow same-sex partners to be designated as beneficiaries by presenting the partnership certificate issued by municipalities. Starting with the introduction of the partnership system in Shibuya Ward, various life insurance companies have introduced policies that allow designating same-sex partners as beneficiaries. For example, LifeNet Seimei has allowed the designation of same-sex partners as recipients of death insurance benefits since 2015. [Source: LifeNet Seimei](https://www.lifenet-seimei.co.jp/rainbow/)
Specific requirements and documents may vary depending on the insurance company, so it’s essential to check with the insurance provider in advance.
**Hospital Accommodations as Family**
In the past, many cases involved partners being denied hospital visitation and decision-making for their hospitalized partners due to the lack of legal family recognition. By utilizing the partnership system, partners now have the ability to receive explanations of their partner’s medical condition, accompany them in ambulances, designate emergency contacts, provide consent for visitation, treatment plans, and surgeries, discuss discharge timing and location, apply for emergency transport certification, and consent to rehabilitation implementation plans at an increasing number of public and private hospitals.
For example, the “Sakai City Partnership Declaration System” in Osaka Prefecture explicitly states that patients in a partnership relationship can request visitation and surgical consent to the city’s medical facilities. [Source: Sakai City Partnership Declaration System]
The partnership system is a unique initiative established by individual municipalities. To utilize it, couples are required to reside in the same municipality. In cases where the municipality of relocation has entered into cooperation agreements with the transferring and receiving municipalities, the procedures for relocation can be simplified.
Additionally, since the partnership certificate lacks legal binding, whether private companies or hospitals choose to recognize it is at their discretion. However, as municipalities continue to create and promote such systems, it is expected that more private entities and hospitals will adapt to this system, leading to its broader societal acceptance.
We handle visa applications for same-sex marriage partners and have a track record of approval. This visa is relatively rare in Japan. If you have any questions or require assistance, please don’t hesitate to consult with us.
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