The company has moved ahead of the Japanese government by stating that it will acknowledge same-sex partnerships among its employees, beginning in April. Though details have not yet been comprehensively outlined, it is expected that it will see its health insurance and childcare benefits extended to more employees and their partners.
Panasonic’s decision is capturing headlines, however, because the move is so rare in Asia: and indeed it seems unlikely that it will prompt any serious industry change. In countries such as the Philippines, South Korea and China, the idea of being open about homosexuality can still have significant consequences both for the individuals themselves, and for their family members. In an area that puts great emphasis on traditional family structures, such an admission requires significant courage.
Even with this move, Panasonic has been relatively quiet in its reaction to media queries: stating that it had been contemplating the move for more than 10 years, but not actually expanding on the details.
The low-key approach has prompted surprise among North American companies. For example, Lenny Sanicola, who works at WorldatWork in Washington, DC, commented that “Panasonic would be a pioneer in Japan” and that such a move would be treated with widespread praise elsewhere.
Across Asia, same-sex marriages are not yet legal – although several local governments across Japan have started to recognize partnerships as an equivalent to marriage. However, public sentiment towards lesbian and gay issues in Japan is generally unsympathetic with local media even suggesting that Panasonic had only made the move because it is working as a sponsor for the Olympic Games.
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In North America it might not seem like a big deal any more, but in Asia, Panasonic’s decision to acknowledge same-sex partnerships has caused a wave of controversy.