Over 30 percent of the 146 local governments in Japan that have introduced a same-sex partnership system as of Jan. 1 have also signed reciprocal agreements with other municipalities to simplify reapplication procedures when LGBT couples move, according to a Kyodo News survey.
The move comes amid criticism that the need for a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender couple to dissolve a partnership and reapply each time they move causes emotional stress.
The cross-municipality cooperation has accelerated since the southwestern Japan cities of Fukuoka and Kumamoto signed such an agreement in October 2019.
As of Jan. 1, five prefectures and 141 municipalities had introduced a same-sex partnership system, covering more than 40 percent of Japan's total population.
However, often these partnerships are not recognized beyond their jurisdictions, and none of them are legally binding, meaning that it is up to individual entities like hospitals and real estate agents to choose to accept them or not.
Under reciprocal agreements between local governments, the certificate and other documents issued when the couple first applied for the partnership can also be used in their new municipality of residence.
The couple are also exempted from having to provide documents proving they are not married to anyone else.
According to the survey, the number of municipalities that had signed agreements with at least one other local government totaled two in 2019, 12 in 2020 and 46 in 2021.
Two additional cities in southwestern Japan -- Ibusuki and Kagoshima -- joined the list in 2022, bringing the total to 48 municipalities across 14 prefectures as of Feb. 1.
All of the municipalities in Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan, and almost all in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, have signed agreements, with many on the southwestern main island of Kyushu establishing agreements across prefectures.
Osaka Prefecture is in talks with seven of its cities that have already introduced a same-sex partnership system, and five municipalities in Saitama Prefecture are also considering an agreement.
"Cooperation with other local governments will help spread and raise awareness of the system, which in turn will help sexual minorities improve their self-esteem," said an official of Oi, a town in Kanagawa Prefecture that has signed reciprocal agreements with other municipalities.
But some local governments have faced obstacles in concluding agreements due to the differing scope and conditions of their respective systems.
The city of Takarazuka in Hyogo Prefecture, which limits its partnership system to sexual minorities, said that it could not sign agreements with municipalities whose system also covers de facto marriages between heterosexual couples.