Gay Couple Weds at Shrine in Amagasaki after Rejections ElsewhereSociety Gender and Sex
Exchange of Rings
[Kobe Shimbun] Amagasaki-based gay couple Matsuura Keita, aged 37, and Sakurai Hidenari (not his real name), 38, donned formal Japanese kimono and hakama (loose trousers) for their wedding ceremony at a local Shintō shrine. In a press conference afterward, they conveyed their gratitude to the shrine. Yet just days prior, the shrine received calls from anonymous callers expressing their disgust.
According to various informants, most shrines refuse to marry same-sex couples, claiming that if it is not a ceremony between a man and a woman it cannot be a true Shintō ritual, or that it contravenes traditional Shintō, because the rites include readings from the Kojiki regarding the mythological “birth of Japan.”
In response, the Jinja Honchō (Association of Shintō Shrines) stated it would not issue a public opinion on this occasion, adding that Shintō does not have any doctrines or scriptures addressing the right or wrong of same-sex marriage, and that it was up to individual shrines to determine whether to accept it and develop new formalities.
“It Felt Like Betrayal”
Matsuura and Sakurai appeared relieved when they spoke at a press conference after the ceremony, “We never dreamed anything like this would ever happen in our lifetimes. We’re overjoyed.”
Although same-sex marriage is not currently possible under Japanese law, in 2020 the couple had their relationship officially recognized as equivalent to marriage by Amagasaki’s partnership system recognizing sexual minorities. But two years later, in June 2022, it was learned that Shintō Seiji Renmei (the Shintō Association of Spiritual Leadership), a political organization under the Jinja Honchō, had issued Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers with a pamphlet discriminating against sexual minorities.
It claimed homosexuality to be an “acquired psychological disorder or addiction.” Matsuura recalled how the contents of the pamphlet filled him with feelings of betrayal by Shintō shrines, which he had always felt an affinity with. The couple looked for a shrine to wed them, in a conscious move to highlight the issue.
After numerous rejections, they found a shrine that was willing to accept them.
“My Heart Skipped a Beat”
They were blessed with fine weather for their wedding day, in contrast to the day before. The ceremony proceeded without a hitch, with attendees giving congratulations and expressing joy at being present.
Matsuura said his “heart skipped a beat” when he first glimpsed Sakurai dressed in a formal hakama. Despite there currently being few shrines willing to hold same-sex marriage ceremonies, he expressed his hope for “support for couples to live positive lives.”
At the end of the ceremony, Matsuura read out a message addressed to himself as a junior high student, when he first realized he was gay.
“At the time, I believed I could never marry, never have a family, and would spend my whole life alone. I felt there was no one in the world who would accept me. Your future self has had a wedding with his beloved partner and formed a family. It has been acknowledged by his family, friends, and local community, and blessed by the gods. I wish 13-year-old Keita could see me today.”
Prior to their wedding, we contacted around 10 shrines across Japan to ask their stance on same-sex ceremonies at Shintō shrines. Most responded that they were unwilling to perform them, and many responses were along the lines of “because there’s no precedent, we’ve never considered it.”
Although some acknowledged the growing public sympathy with diverse sexualities, they wished to avoid making public statements on whether or not they could conduct such ceremonies. One response noted that, with the changing times, it was an issue for the entire body of Shintō shrines to address.
Meiji Jingū in Tokyo responded that it wished to “work together with concerned parties to consider the matter based on the opinion of the Jinja Honchō.”
(Translated from Japanese. Banner photograph: Hand-in-hand, the couple arrives for their wedding banquet in Amagasaki Hyōgo Prefecture, on June 3、2023. Article by Ōta Toshiyuki and Nagura Akari; photograph by Ōta Toshiyuki.)
[© The Kobe Shimbun]