Two women made history in Tokyo as the first same-sex couple in Japan to have their relationship recognized by a local government, CNN reports.
The women, Koyuki Higashi, a Japanese model and television personality turned LGBT activist, and her partner of four years, Hiroko Matsuhara, are the first same-sex couple ever to walk through the Shibuya ward office doors carrying Japan’s first-ever certificate recognizing a same sex union.
“I’m so happy,” Higashi says. “When they gave us the certificate, I cried. Our friends cried.”
Applicants must be at least 20 and fill out a notarized document promising to protect each other and live together with trust and love. The certificate has an official stamp. But businesses, hospitals, landlords, and other entities are not legally bound to acknowledge it.
Furthermore, this kind of certificate is only available for residents in two of Tokyo’s 23 wards — and nowhere else in Japan. Mostly symbolic, the certificate is supposed to encourage businesses to grant rights equivalent to marriage.
Japan, same-sex couples have difficulty finding housing, opening joint bank accounts, and can be barred from seeing their loved one in the hospital after an accident or illness.
Despite recognition and protection from some local governments, Japan still has no national laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination. Coming out can mean getting fired, evicted, or denied healthcare. And there’s no legal recourse.