Japan cancels deportation of gay man who overstayed visa

Japan’s LGBT community at a pride parade in Tokyo.
PHOTO: AFP

Japan has shelved plans to deport a gay Taiwanese man in a long-term relationship, his lawyers said, telling local media the decision was a step towards legal protection for same-sex couples in the socially conservative country.

"It's the first time special permission to stay in the country has been given to a foreign gay partner of a Japanese citizen," said one of the lawyers, although the ministry denied its decision was based on the man's sexual orientation.

The Taiwanese man, now in his 40s, has lived in the country for about 25 years with his Japanese partner, now in his 50s, according to national broadcaster NHK.

According to the man's defence team, he came to Japan on a one-year student visa in September 1992 to enrol in a Japanese language school, and re-entered the country on a three-month visa in October 1993 to prepare for a language proficiency test. He started a relationship the following month with his Japanese partner, now in his 50s.

In June 2016, his illegal residency was discovered and deportation was ordered. The man filed a petition with the Tokyo District Court the following year to revoke the deportation.

But he appealed the government's order, claiming that a special residency permit would have been issued to heterosexual couples in similar situations.

Tokyo cancelled its deportation order this month and issued the special residency permit to the Taiwanese man, NHK reported.

"If we could have married legally, our lives could have changed," he told local media Friday, according to the Tokyo Shimbun.

His Japanese partner said: "Our lives and future seemed grey. Now I wish that two of us will live with more positive attitude and a sense of gratitude to make the colour of our lives a bit brighter."

Same-sex marriage is not legally recognised in Japan but the government has gradually expanded rights protections for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens in recent years.

The Justice Ministry's decision came almost a month after 13 same-sex couples sued the government for not recognising marriage equality, arguing it is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Non-recognition means that couples involving foreign partners cannot gain residency similar to straight couples. Same-sex couples have said it causes them stress as they worry about possible deportation for the foreign partner if a visa cannot be obtained.

The concern is well-known to a German-Japanese couple who have been together since 2011 and who are one of the 13 plaintiffs against the government. To live with her Japanese partner, 32-year-old Kristina Baumann has had to continuously enrol in schools to obtain student visas at a cost of several hundred thousand to a million yen (S$12,166) a year.

Her partner Ai Nakajima, a 40-year-old office worker from Yokohama, called the ministry's decision a "historical first step".

However, she cautioned that "future decisions on similar cases will differ by couple" and that the decision does not indicate government recognition of marriage equality.

"We'd like marriage equality itself to be recognised," she said.

Same-sex marriage is not legally recognised in Japan but the government has gradually expanded rights protections for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens in recent years.

The Taiwanese man, now in his 40s, has lived in the country for about 25 years with his Japanese partner, now in his 50s, according to national broadcaster NHK.

He was arrested in 2016 for overstaying a three-month visa from the early 1990s and was ordered to be deported, the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper reported.

But he appealed the government's order, claiming that a special residency permit would have been issued to heterosexual couples in similar situations.

Tokyo cancelled its deportation order this month and issued the special residency permit to the Taiwanese man, NHK reported.

"If we could have married legally, our lives could have changed," he told local media Friday, according to the Tokyo Shimbun.

His Japanese partner said: "Our lives and future seemed grey. Now I wish that two of us will live with more positive attitude and a sense of gratitude to make the colour of our lives a bit brighter."

In recent years, Japan's LGBT population has campaigned for greater recognition from the government.

In February, 13 same-sex couples filed suits, accusing the Tokyo of discrimination for failing to recognise their unions.

They argue that they are being denied rights accorded to heterosexual couples and hope courts will declare the government's position unconstitutional.

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