There is less than a week to go before Shibuya Ward in Tokyo will begin issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples. If all goes as planned, April 1 will be a major milestone for LGBT rights in Japan.
However, in the days leading up to it, Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has established the “Special Committee to Protect Family Ties” which has just finished a meeting on 25 March to try to find any legal reason not to allow Shibuya’s version of same-sex marriages to go forward.
■ Both sexes, or both man and woman?
One of the members of the meeting brought up Article 24 of the Japanese Constitution which states: “Marriage is approved only on the agreement of both sexes.” They argued that the word ryōsei (“both sexes” or “both genders”) used in the constitution could only be understood to mean “a man and a woman.”
While ryōsei is mostly used to refer to both men and women and can have that implicit meaning, however, there is nothing explicit in the constitution which says “both sexes” have to be unique to one another. If it were to say danjo ryōsei (lit. “male/female both sexes”) then it would be a different story.
■ Reverse discrimination?
Another committee member, in an impressive feat of hypocrisy, suggested: “If they give special certificates for same-sex partnerships only, isn’t that discrimination against heterosexuals?” This is in reference to the fact that under the proposed plan Shibuya will not give out the regular marriage certificates that male-female couples receive to same-sex couples.
However, they can receive a certificate with some stricter conditions that is also not recognized by the national government. In other words, heterosexual couples would be discriminated against because they couldn’t be discriminated against like homosexual couples are.
And the guy who thought of this is helping run the country.
■ No legal problem
In the end it looks as if the plan will go ahead as scheduled. The committee chairman, Toshiharu Furukawa, summed up the situation with a statement from the Ministry of Justice.
“Because there is no legislation to prohibit allowing same-sex marriages, it cannot be said that there is a legal problem.”
Still, the committee will continue to look for potential loopholes in sewing this movement shut. They are hoping to meet with LDP representatives from Shibuya Ward as well as Mayor Kuwahara to hear what they’re thinking about the matter.
But barring any surprises, it looks like same-sex couples will still be getting a small victory come 1 April and one which may very well lead to greater and more widespread change in Japan in days to come.