The city will become the fourth district in Japan to strengthen its LGBT rights.

The city of Iga in Mie Prefecture has announced plans to start issuing certificates recognising same-sex partnerships as being equivalent to marriage.

The certificates will be issued from next April onwards, in a bid to address discrimination against the LGBT community, Iga Mayor Sakae Okamoto said in a statement.

The city will follow Shibuya and Setagaya wards in Tokyo – which became Japan’s first and second local governments to introduce the system last month.

As of Friday, a total of 16 same-sex couples have received papers from the two wards.

The city of Takarazuka, meanwhile, has said it will start issuing papers authenticating partnership oaths by same-sex couples by summer 2016.

Okamoto said he instructed city officials to visit Takarazuka to learn about its plan and compile guidelines by the end of March on issuing partnership certificates.

Iga officials added that they are planning to issue laws ensuring the equal treatment of same-sex and heterosexual couples at hospitals and apartments run by the municipal government.

They will also ask for the cooperation of private companies, such as real estate agencies.

Okamoto referred to an online survey conducted in April that found 7.6 percent, or one in every 13, of some 70,000 people polled identified themselves as a member of Japan’s LGBT community.

“In Iga with a population of about 95,000, more than 6,000 people belong to the LGBT community”, the mayor said.

“It is our role to create a society in which sexual minorities can proudly live.”

However, they will not be recognised outside the wards, as the Japanese constitution still states that “marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has previously voiced his unwillingness to allow same sex marriages in the country because it would be ‘difficult’ under the constitution as it stands.

Same-sex marriages are not legally allowed in Japan and such couples say they face disadvantages – such as inability to inherit property from partners without a will or benefit from income tax deductions for spouses.

According to a new poll carried out in the country recently, the majority of people support changing the country’s laws to allow same-sex marriage.