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Half of couples in same-sex marriage lawsuits in Japan remaining anonymous

Kenji Aiba, center, and his partner Ken Kozumi, right, are seen at a news conference in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Feb. 14, 2019. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Maruyama)

TOKYO/OSAKA/NAGOYA -- About half of the same-sex couples who have filed damages suits against the government over a ban on same-sex marriage in Japan have remained anonymous, fearing they could be subjected to prejudice and discrimination.

In addition to those suing the government, there are many other same-sex couples across the country who cannot speak out on the matter for the same reasons.

The plaintiffs who have identified themselves by name have displayed their determination to struggle on behalf of those who cannot join them in the suits.

At a news conference, Ikuo Sato, 59, who filed a suit with the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 14, read out a message by his partner. "I really want to stay side-by-side with my partner, but can't. I would like to win the suit, show my face in public and end my legal battle with a smile," the message read.

Sato's partner was not present at the news conference. The partner has not told his family or co-workers that he has a same-sex partner, and cannot identify himself.

Nevertheless, the man decided to sue the government because he wants to hold hands with Sato when his life comes to an end.

Sato has tested positive for HIV, and is taking medicine. He often thinks about death. Since some hospitals allow only family members to meet patients in critical condition, Sato and his partner fear that they will not be able to hold hands with each other when the life of one of them comes to an end.

Sato's partner hopes that younger generations will stop thinking that being gay is bad and not lie to their schools or workplaces, as he has previously done.

Kenji Aiba, 40, who attended the news conference with his partner, 45-year-old Ken Kozumi, shed tears when he heard what the other plaintiffs said, and expressed his determination to fight to win the suit.

"I think of the faces of those who haven't been able to come out. I'd like to work hard for these people," Aiba said.

Akiyoshi Tanaka, 41, and his 33-year-old partner Yuki Kawata, who filed their suit with the Osaka District Court, have bought their own house, where they intend to live permanently. However, they fear they may not be able to be at each other's bedside when the other person is dying because they are not recognized as a family.

"It's important to be able to select various forms of marriage. I want Japan to be a society where people can freely live as they wish," said Kawata.

Akikazu Takami (a pseudonym), who filed his suit with the Nagoya District Court, told a news conference that when he and his partner Toshimasa Ono (a pseudonym) attempted to submit a marriage notification to the local government, they were told, "Congratulations."

"We'd be happier if the notification had been accepted," Takami said.

They have compiled a notary document on their marriage contract in hope that their relations will be socially recognized.

"I just want to stay with the person I love. I hope Japan will be a society in which everybody can say this, regardless of their gender," Takami said.

He hopes that if he and his partner can officially marry and become entitled to tax deductions for dependents, he will be able to cut down his working hours and concentrate more on housework.

Homosexual and bisexual people accounted for 5.4 percent of 100,000 people surveyed by advertising giant Hakuhodo Inc. in 2016.

(Japanese original by Miyuki Fujisawa, Medical Welfare News Department; Fumie Togami, Osaka City News Department; and Ayuko Nomura, Nagoya News Center)

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