TOKYO -- Japanese LGBTQ people and rights groups condemned a recent discriminatory remark by a senior aide of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, demanding his government enact laws to ban discrimination against sexual minorities, legalize same-sex marriage and guarantee equal rights before Japan hosts a Group of Seven summit in May.
Their comments at a news conference Tuesday followed remarks last week by Kishida aide Masayoshi Arai, who was fired after telling reporters he wouldn't want to live next to LGBTQ people and that citizens would flee Japan if same-sex marriage was allowed.
Despite Kishida's quick dismissal of Arai, a comment the prime minister made earlier last week raised questions about his intentions toward sexual minorities.
Responding to an opposition lawmaker’s question in parliament, Kishida said whether to allow same-sex marriage is “an issue that must be examined extremely carefully.” A decision requires a thorough examination of all of society “because the issue may change the concept of family and values as well as society," he said.
At Tuesday's news conference, LGBTQ activists and their supporters said while Arai's remarks displayed outright prejudice against sexual minorities, Kishida's equivocal comments suggested his reluctance to tackle the issue despite his earlier pledge to create an inclusive and diverse society.
“Discriminatory remarks by the prime minister's aide made it clear to the rest of the world that Japan is a country that does not care about the rights of sexual minorities," said Takako Uesugi, a lawyer and director of Marriage For All Japan, an organization campaigning for legalization of same-sex marriage.
Noting that Japan is the only member of the Group of Seven advanced industrialized nations that lacks a law protecting the rights of sexual minorities, she said, “We must say Japan is not fit to lead the G-7 summit if we leave the situation unaddressed."
They demanded the government immediately begin the process of legalizing same-sex marriage, establish a working team to study ways to guarantee the rights of sexual minorities, appoint an aide to the prime minister who specializes in sexual minorities' rights, and include statistics of same-sex couples in the national census.
Support for sexual diversity has grown slowly in Japan and legal protections are still lacking for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They often face discrimination at school, work and at home, causing many to hide their sexual identities.
In recent years, more than 200 local municipalities, including Tokyo, have introduced certificates of partnerships for same-sex couples allowing them to rent apartments and sign documents in medical emergencies, and for inheritance. Still, the certificates are not legally binding and same-sex couples are often barred from visiting each other in the hospital and from getting access to other services available to married couples.
Campaigns for equal rights for sexual minorities have faced resistance from conservatives in Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s governing Liberal Democratic Party. An attempt to enact an equality awareness promotion law ahead of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics was quashed by the party.
Amid national outrage over Arai's remarks, the party's secretary general, Toshimitsu Motegi, said he planned to start preparing for legislation to promote awareness of LGBTQ rights, but some conservatives have already shown resistance. A group of non-partisan lawmakers also said they hope to enact an equality law by the G-7 summit.
The activists noted Japan signed the G-7 Elmau summit communique in June which calls for “full, equal and meaningful participation of women and girls in all their diversity as well as LGBTIQ+ persons in politics, economics, education and all other spheres of society.”
“Kishida's lack of effort to establish legal protection is tantamount to promoting discrimination,” said Soshi Matsuoka, an activist who launched an online petition for laws promoting anti-discrimination and equality rights that has received more than 40,000 signatures since Sunday.