Tokyo began issuing partnership certificates to same-sex couples who live and work in the capital on Tuesday, a long-awaited move in a country without marriage equality.
The certificates allow LGBTQ partners to be treated as married couples for a range of public services in areas such as housing, medicine and welfare.
More than 200 smaller local authorities in Japan have already made moves to recognize same-sex partnerships since Tokyo’s Shibuya district pioneered the system in 2015.
Read more: US Embassy Islamabad slammed for Twitter post on LGBTQ+ community
While the status does not carry the same legal rights as marriage, it represents a welcome change for couples like Miki and Katie, who have long had no official proof of their relationship.
“My biggest fear has been that we would be treated as strangers in an emergency,” Miki said at home in Tokyo, where photos of the Japanese 36-year-old with her American girlfriend Katie, 31, adorn the fridge.
Without a partnership certificate, the couple, who asked to be referred to by their first names, used to tuck a note inside their wallets with the other’s contact details.
“But these were insubstantial, and we felt official documents certified by the local government would be more effective,” Miki said as their grey-and-white cat frolicked in a rainbow necktie. As of Friday morning, 137 couples had applied for a certificate, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said last week.
Read more: 9 Significant Takeaways From The LGBTQ+ Presidential Candidate Discussion board
Hopes are high that the introduction of same-sex partnership certificates, which cover both residents and commuters, will help fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination in Japan.
“Through this Tokyo partnership system, I sincerely hope we can accelerate efforts to create a society where the rights of sexual minorities can be protected, and made more equal,” campaigner Soyoka Yamamoto told a press conference on Tuesday. Yamamoto and her partner Yoriko, who have lived together for more than a decade, received their certificate that morning.