Gay marriage comes to Asia?
February 11, 2015 8:45 PM   Subscribe

It should be noted, admittedly, that it's not legally binding, but it's a big ol' step in the right direction.
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:46 PM on February 11, 2015



Carry on.

O.k. That's trite of me. Big blind spot in my understanding of LGBT rights in the world is Japan. Would love to hear from folks who can give context, or maybe talk about how this is being received, or what this means politically.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:54 PM on February 11, 2015

Zetta great news.
posted by Simon! at 8:54 PM on February 11, 2015

Socially, gay rights in Japan seems to fall under the category of "generally, people pretend that gay people don't exist." There's a degree of social comfort with men taking on feminine personas, especially in show business, since that tradition goes back centuries, but there's also this sort of widespread notion that "gay man" is somehow equivalent to "wants to be a woman."

From what I've seen in my own experience — and I'll freely admit that it's rather limited experience, particularly being a straight dude — being gay in Japan seems to be the sort of thing that is ignored overall, so while you don't get things like lynchings and other overt homophobia, it's a socially conservative enough society (in the actual literal sense of "don't change the status quo too much unless you absolutely have to") that I also literally never expected to see any steps toward anything even resembling legal recognition of same-sex couples in Japan in my lifetime.
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:03 PM on February 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

I was just talking the other day about how Japan uses old cabaret laws to shut down gay night clubs, so this is unexpected but welcome news!
posted by GameDesignerBen at 9:16 PM on February 11, 2015

Yeah, I think DoctorFedora has the right idea. There's less overt anti-homosexual sentiment, but there's also much less awareness in general and certainly very few legal rights / protections.

This is probably good for awareness but has little practical impact, and I'm very skeptical the national government will take any action anytime soon.
posted by thefoxgod at 9:24 PM on February 11, 2015

Guitar Wolf approves!
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:35 PM on February 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Er, curmudgeonly point of order: "relationship equivalent to marriage" isn't marriage; separate but equal isn't.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:09 PM on February 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is great news, if for only the fact that it will create some headlines and that many more people will actually be talking about this subject. If you watch a week's worth of Japanese TV, you might get the impression that Japanese society is open and accepting of gays; panel discussion/variety shows very frequently have on or even feature a gay/transgender tarento.

But that acceptance is very narrow. You will only see highly effeminate gay men/transgender folk, in full drag and sometimes as flamboyant as what you see in Gay Pride parades. A gay man who is not obviously so? A female lesbian who seems as feminine as other women? You won't catch those folks on TV at all. Japan isn't perfect, but it's a country that seems to genuinely, complete lack the stupidity of fundamental religious dogma that Christian and Muslim nations cannot. So at least there's not that as a roadblock for attitudes to completely change down the road, hopefully within a generation or so.
posted by zardoz at 10:19 PM on February 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

feckless fecal fear mongering: Er, curmudgeonly point of order: "relationship equivalent to marriage" isn't marriage; separate but equal isn't.

Yes, yes, but then Japan also lacks the specific cultural connotations of the phrase "separate but equal" in much the same way that English speakers can use the phrase "final solution" in any context at all without drawing uncomfortable side-eyes while Germans can't.

"Relationship equivalent to marriage," even if not legally binding, is a significant step forward in a continent where "homosexual acts are not actively outlawed" is the most progressive any government has gotten so far. It is also the most accurate description of the relationship that would be established available without some high-level government having to rewrite the legal definition of marriage.
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:22 PM on February 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh I'm not saying it's not a step forward... but it's not equality. And it's not, contrary to the post title, marriage.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for my Japanese siblings to see any progress. But anything less than full equality across the board is unacceptable.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:24 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I will grant, I did overpromise with the thread title, because in my frenzy to share some pretty rad news I initially missed the "not legally binding" part.
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:30 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

"You will only see highly effeminate gay men/transgender folk, in full drag and sometimes as flamboyant as what you see in Gay Pride parades. A gay man who is not obviously so? A female lesbian who seems as feminine as other women? You won't catch those folks on TV at all."

Uhm, how would you know that a "gay man who is not obviously so" is gay? An average gay guy is just an average guy. How do you know that none of the people on tv are guy but just don't announce it live on air?
posted by I-baLL at 11:53 PM on February 11, 2015

That's sort of the point. There's no "just also happens to be gay" that you'll see in the media so far in Japan for the most part. Not that it's particularly common in America, either, but it does exist out there.
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:55 PM on February 11, 2015

Oh, wait, I think I see. Zardoz means fictional media on tv like soap operas and regular tv series. I keep picturing talk shows for some weird reason.
posted by I-baLL at 12:02 AM on February 12, 2015

As I understand it, in Japan you only ever get Jack, not Will.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:10 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Amusingly enough, stereotypical gay guys in Japan often tend to be a hyper-macho bodybuilders, perhaps because there have been enough centuries of straight men in show business playing female roles that that's not the go-to stereotype. The limp-wristed lisper* isn't part of the Japanese stereotype lexicon.

*which COMPLETELY sounds like a species that birdwatchers would be on the lookout for from March to May
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:22 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Their most impressive plumage tends to be around June in North America.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. HARD GAY suddenly makes more sense now.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:27 AM on February 12, 2015

Gay marriage comes to Asia?

Asia? You mean Japan? This ain't Asia! At least as far as most Japanese are concerned!

But, on topic: this is good news, really good news, and a very big and bold step for Shibuya-ku to take. I am genuinely impressed and quite surprised.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:30 AM on February 12, 2015

It's also worth noting, perhaps, that Shibuya 3-chome has the world's highest concentration of LGBT bars (as my wife and I discovered completely by accident a few years back in the immediate vicinity of our surprisingly cheap hotel). I do wonder if that has something to do with this.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:32 AM on February 12, 2015

Wait, no, it's Shinjuku 3-chome. Forgive my cold-addled mind.
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:34 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I-Ball--no, I don't mean fictional characters on TV (though that might ring true as well; I don't watch many Japanese dramas). I was referring to chat/variety shows, where flamboyant gays like Matsuko Deluxe are front and center. That's the only possible variety of gay that is openly accepted, at least in the realm of mainstream TV entertainment.

Having said that, maybe it's a bit hyperbolic; just a few months ago an entertainment/news show ran a short documentary piece on a lesbian couple that got (unofficially) married at Tokyo Disneyland. Not played for laughs at all, but a straightforward piece aimed at understanding the couple's struggle to fit into society. There's a long way to go, but I think that, like the U.S., Japan will advance on this issue relatively quickly.
posted by zardoz at 2:26 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

DoctorFedora, That's Shinjuku 2-chome, but whatever, a good neighborhood in the evening. Overall, any move in this direction in Japan is a *good thing*, however limited the actual legal status. Anecdata: 19-21 y.o. students I teach are much more open to LGBT issues than 10 years ago. And, I'd almost forgotten HARD GAY; thanks, Feckless.
posted by Gotanda at 3:00 AM on February 12, 2015

Neato! I was actually thinking about LGBT-in-Japan stuff recently for no particular reason -- I found this video quite enlightening although of course it's always hard to tell how accurate such impressions are without first-hand experience to match it against.

I get the impression that as with most places, the youth are much smarter about these things than the establishment, and will bring their more amenable attitudes with them as they gain influence with age.

Man, the kids are cool these days!
posted by Drexen at 3:13 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Shinjuku 2-chome

this goddamned cold

Also, doesn't Matsuko Deluxe present as a woman? I certainly wouldn't describe him/her as "flamboyant" so much as "effeminate."
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:55 AM on February 12, 2015

Also, doesn't Matsuko Deluxe present as a woman? I certainly wouldn't describe him/her as "flamboyant" so much as "effeminate."

Oh man, I love Matsuko. Ikari Shintou is one of my favorite shows, because she and Ariyoshi are so fun to listen to...also her show where she is just trying out food and talking to random experts about stuff is awesome (マツコの知らない世界!). She's smart and funny.

I also just watched a show with the Downtown crew where a woman presenting gender-fluid (forgive me if I'm butchering the language, not sure how to talk about her/them) talked about her almost completely female fanbase, how she does the kabe-don move on her fans, and the other guests and hosts were pretty much just...completely accepting. It was just kind of "whatever, wow she's really popular huh! Wild how much the girls love her. Okay, on to the next guest..."

So say what you will about the state of things in Japan, I'm really happy that people who are openly transgender are not only acceptable and treated normally on TV but are prominent enough media personalities that they have their own shows--and their shows are not about ghettoizing them as transgender individuals but simply about...whatever. That in addition to the fact that violence against LGBT folks is not really heard of makes me think that in some ways Japan is more advanced than the states.
posted by dubitable at 6:16 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

For all the patriarchy and dark side to it, Japan is the most sexually progressive culture I can think of. I'm not surprised by this development at all.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:23 AM on February 12, 2015

Vietnam relaxed its ban on gay marriage a couple of years ago, although there's still no legal recognition of it.
posted by grubby at 6:46 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Japan and homosexuality, like a lot of East Asia and homosexuality is not all that great. Like others have mentioned, mostly in Japan they pretend that homosexuality doesn't exist, and when they do admit it then mostly they do so in the context of exaggerated stereotypes for jokes.

Japan has two mutually conflicting stereotypes about gay men. The first, more traditionally Japanese, is the image of a man who is so masculine, so hyper-male, so much all yang and no yin, that they want nothing to do with women in any context including sex. They're so manly, and so into being manly, that only sex with other men will do. You sometimes see this stereotype employed in some Japanese media as a gym teacher with an unhealthy fixation on male students, often played for laughs.

Then there's the possibly imported and certainly more Western notion of gay men as being effeminate.

There's also the fact that a lot of Japanese view sex as something where one person is passive and one person is active. Watch any Japanese porn and you'll notice that almost always one person is laying there utterly limp and doing nothing but making porn noises while the other person does all the work, usually it'll be the woman being absolutely limp, but occasionally you'll see them switch positions and the woman will be doing all the work while the man lies there utterly passively and inactively.

So you get a combination of a social pretense that homosexual people don't exist, especially gay men, a couple of competing stereotypes, and a cultural belief that in sex one person is passive and one active. Which results in a lot of Japanese believing in a very sharp butch/fem or top/bottom dichotomy.

You see this in some yaoi media as well, one of the men (always the shorter) will be the passive partner, the other (always the taller) will be the active one. In fan works dealing with established characters this sometimes produces really weird results because the characters will take romantic roles (based on height) that conflict with their established character.

It isn't, I think, as bad as a lot of America's past, as others have observed there isn't really any religious tradition in Japan that is homophobic. However, Japanese culture does highly regard conformity and being homosexual isn't conforming with existing social norms which does result in not good things. "The nail that sticks up gets pounded down" is a Japanese proverb and there are plenty of people who really enjoy taking the pounding down role and playing active gatekeeper of social norms.

Plus, since social conformity is such a thing, a lot of homosexuals in Japan feel pressure to conform to social expectations of what homosexuals "should" be like.

Japan is a better place to be gay than many. Homosexuality isn't illegal, though in many prefectures age of consent is higher for gay sex than straight sex. But it isn't a really good place to be gay. This is a nice step forward and I hope other municipalities in Japan follow suit.
posted by sotonohito at 8:02 AM on February 12, 2015 [8 favorites]

I've heard—and I can't remember my sources, so please correct me if I'm wrong—that some gay couples in Japan form a marriage-workaround by one partner legally adopting the other into the first partner's family registry. Adults entering families through adoption is not unheard of in Japan, and this way the gay couple have some legal family relationship to each other, even if it's as adoptive parent/child instead of spouses. I've no idea how common this practice is, or if it would interfere with a "relationship equivalent to marriage."

It's also my understanding that culturally, homosexuality has been considered something you do rather than something you are are: like "Sure, have sex with whoever, just as long as you keep it discreet, and still proceed to get heterosexually married and have kids. Don't make waves." Being gay as an identity that you're open about is relatively more recent and frowned upon.

Again, I can't remember my sources (mostly lots of reading), so I may be way off. Regardless, this is great news! I'm happy for Japan today.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:33 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

nicebookrack: WRT be vs. are I'd say that there's a lot of that as well. Most Japanese don't see anything inherently wrong, or deceptive, in playing the appropriate role for an occasion even if it isn't what you really are. As an example, you'll occasionally see people out drinking and apparently very wasted, leaning on each other, slurring their words, singing ribald songs, etc and then when the group breaks up one or more will straighten up and walk off apparently completely sober. They were at a drinking event, being drunk was appropriate, therefore they acted drunk.

In the West this might be viewed as two faced, or deceptive. In Japan it's just being harmonious and doing what is socially expected. When you're part of a group doing X, you do X even if you don't believe it or you aren't actually X. Especially if X is an important cultural or social thing like getting married and having a family. Since arranged marriages are still an actual thing in Japan (not nearly as much as they once were, but as of 2005 around 6% of marriages were arranged) that also factors into things.

I don't have any numbers, but no I wouldn't be surprised at all if Japan has a very large number of semi-closeted gay people who marry, have kids, etc because that's socially expected and also have same sex lovers on the side. Hell we've got enough of that in the USA.
posted by sotonohito at 9:11 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

The thing that has me the most excited about this is how out of the blue it was. Just, BAM! turn on the TV yesterday and "Shibuya-ku has decided to issue Partnership Certificates". Absolutely zero hand-wringing or protests or controversy or anything. It was as controversial as announcing that Shibuya had decided to issue commemorative stamps. That gives me great hope for things progressing smoothly if (if) this becomes a movement that spreads nationwide.

I honestly still don't ever expect gay marriage in Japan, but all of a sudden I'm much more hopeful about full, legally-binding civil unions nationwide in the future. And I know that is "unacceptable", but considering I never ever ever thought it would happen, that unacceptable thing would make me very happy.
posted by Bugbread at 2:46 PM on February 12, 2015

Aw, man. The impression I got from the TV coverage was "Shibuya has decided to issue", but reading the article, it hasn't been voted into effect, just proposed. So there's plenty of time for the old men in the municipal assembly to shoot it down.
posted by Bugbread at 3:13 PM on February 12, 2015

Fellow Japan-hands, help me out with something. I've heard, somewhere, that the Japanese government's actual position is "You cannot get married here in Japan, but if you got married somewhere else, and that marriage is legally binding in the place where you got married, then you are considered to be legally married in Japan". What this ends out meaning is that Japanese can't marry other Japanese (since the only place they could be wed in a legally-binding manner would be Japan, and Japan doesn't do gay marriage), but a Japanese person could get married to a Dutch person in the Netherlands, where it would be legally binding, and that upon return to Japan they would therefore legally be considered as married. Likewise, a married foreign couple (two Dutch people, etc.) that came to Japan would be considered as legally married. Is my understanding of this even remotely accurate?
posted by Bugbread at 3:24 PM on February 12, 2015

Bugbread: I don't have first-hand experience for you, but Wikipedia and tells a slightly different story.
Same-sex couples are not able to marry, and same-sex couples are not granted rights derived from marriage. Also same-sex marriages performed abroad are not legally recognized in Japan and bi-national same-sex couples cannot obtain a visa for the foreign partner based on their relationship.
The government will issue paperwork to help its LGB citizens enter into same-sex relationships abroad, but that seems more about helping, say, a Japanese national emigrate to the Netherlands than about helping the Dutch half of the couple immigrate to Japan.
posted by Banknote of the year at 9:59 AM on February 13, 2015

Well, in either for a Japanese citizen to be considered married by Japan they have to register that marriage with Japan. My wife (who is Japanese) and I got married in the US, and she has to send a bunch of documentation to the embassy to update her status (and Koseki -- family register) in Japan to reflect this. If she didn't, she would essentially be considered single in Japan but married in the US.

So if a Japanese person married a same-sex partner in, say, the US -- they would be married in the US, but Japan would not allow them to register that marriage in Japan, so it wouldn't do either partner any good in Japan.

(In other words --- regardless of same or opposite sex marriage, simply getting married abroad is not sufficient, and its the "update records in Japan" step that would cause roadblocks for a same-sex couple)
posted by thefoxgod at 1:50 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ah, thank you! Man, I was totally off-base on that...
posted by Bugbread at 3:25 PM on February 13, 2015

Chinese gay couples win contest to marry in California
Ten gay couples in China have won a trip to the US to get married this summer as part of a competition organised by Alibaba's e-commerce platform Taobao that ended Saturday.
posted by Golden Eternity at 4:01 PM on February 14, 2015

It's not exactly an academic source, but here's a semi-autobiographical manga I remember reading that talks about the "legal adoption as marriage" option in Japan.
posted by nicebookrack at 7:54 PM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

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