The smiles on Koyuki Higashi and Hiroku Masuhara's faces said it all. Clutching rainbow fans and a marriage certificate between them, the first legally married same sex couple in Tokyo walked out of the Shibuya ward office early Thursday morning (Nov. 5) and made history.
According to the Huffington Post, model/TV personality and LGBT activist Higashi, 30 and fellow activist Masuhara, 37, finally made it official after Shibuya's legislators voted in March to begin issuing marriage certificates to LGBT couples, a move that was followed a few months later by another one of Tokyo's 23 wards, Setagaya.
While the local rule changes recommend that same-sex couples be given equal rights including hospital visitations and joint apartment rentals, some LGBT activists have pointed out that they only apply to the two wards and they're not legally binding.
The move was a small step forward for Japan, where LGBT issues are still taboo according to CNN, with applicants for the licenses asked to fill out a notarized document promising to "protect each other and live together with trust and love." Businesses, hospitals, landlords and other legal entities do not have to recognize the unions in a country where same-sex couples struggle to find homes together, open joint bank accounts and visit each other in the hospital.
Months after the U.S. legalized same-sex marriages, Japan still has no national laws protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination and coming out can lead to evictions, firings and denial of healthcare. At present there are no efforts to pass a national marriage equality act in the country of 9.1 million with an estimated LGBT population of 5%.