Japan lesbian couple 'wed' amid calls for same-sex marriage

TOKYO (AFP) - A lesbian couple held a symbolic wedding ceremony in Tokyo on Sunday, as calls grow for Japan to legalise same-sex marriage.

While their marriage will not be recognised under law, actresses Ayaka Ichinose, 34, and Akane Sugimori, 28 - both dressed in white - tied the knot in front of some 80 relatives and friends.

"We held the wedding ceremony so that it might become easier for others to do the same in the future," Sugimori told press afterwards.

She added that the couple will try to register their marriage with the municipal office, but expect their application to be rejected.

Last month, a Tokyo council voted to issue "partnership" certificates to gay couples, the first such recognition of same-sex unions in Japan. Other municipalities are now considering doing the same.

The certificate will carry only symbolic significance, since the Japanese constitution identifies marriage as a union based on mutual consent of the parties from "both sexes".

While Japan is largely tolerant of homosexuality, there is no specific legal protection for gay people, who complain that they may be prevented from visiting sick loved ones in hospitals or may be refused a tenancy because their relationship is not recognised.