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Panasonic to recognize same-sex couples, call for equality among LGBT employees

Panasonic Corp. is poised to amend its in-house employee rules in April to recognize same-sex couples as having a relationship equivalent to marriage, and will clarify its behavioral guidelines to state that discrimination must not be practiced against employees who identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender).

    The initiative came about as a result of appeals that were made in this regard from Panasonic employees themselves. It was also driven by the fact that the company is a primary sponsor of the International Olympic Committee, and the Olympic Charter calls for the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

    The move is a progressive one among domestic companies, and it is possible that other firms will follow suit by implementing similar policies.

    Panasonic is presently taking concrete steps toward the revision of existing rules and guidelines in this regard. The definitions of "marriage" and "spouse" are being amended within employment regulations, for example, and discussions are also taking place regarding the extension of benefits packages to employees with same-sex partners, which include special leave given for weddings and funerals.

    In the change to its employee behavioral guidelines, which affect some 250,000 employees within the corporate group both domestically and overseas, the company has said that it plans to add a phrase stating that discrimination must not be practiced against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

    The plan to revise the company's in-house rules was set into motion after an employee announced during the summer of last year that they were thinking of marrying a person of the same sex.

    Other companies are implementing similar initiatives, including IBM Japan, where employees who declare that they have same-sex partners are provided with cash wedding gifts and relocation travel expenses.

    At Renown Inc., meanwhile, employees who submit same-sex partner certificates from their local municipalities are eligible to receive benefits including time off after getting married.

    "We can now expect to see a ripple effect among numerous additional Japanese companies," notes Ayumu Yasutomi, a professor of social ecology with the University of Tokyo's Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia who is knowledgeable about LGBT-related issues.

    Rights for LGBT individuals are beginning to take hold in society, with recent moves in this regard including the partnership certificates that Tokyo's Shibuya Ward began to issue in November 2015 recognizing same-sex relationships as being equivalent to (legalized heterosexual) marriage.

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