Japan PM aide’s remarks on same-sex couples renew LGBTQ rights push


Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida apologized on Monday for homophobic remarks about gay marriage made by a former top aide, whom he fired last week. The comments drew attention to the country’s lagging LGBTQ rights as it prepares to host the Group of Seven summit this spring.

Masayoshi Arai, a former aide, said last week that he “doesn’t want to see” same-sex couples and “do not want to live next door” to them. In an off-the-record briefing with reporters, he theorized that if same-sex marriage were allowed in Japan, it would “change the pattern of society” and “some people would leave the country.”

Kishida apologized in Parliament on Monday for Arai’s comments, which he said were “completely contrary to government policy.”

The apology reflects ongoing fallout for Kishida, leader of Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party, who on Saturday said the remarks were “outrageous” and fired Arai from his post. Arai’s comments followed a warning from Kishida that Japan needed to be “extremely cautious” in considering legalizing same-sex marriage, “because it would fundamentally change the structure of family life and society.” can.”

The controversy has brought renewed scrutiny to Japan’s lack of rights for LGBTQ people that are standard in other leading democracies. Japan is the only G-7 country that does not allow same-sex marriage, and its legislature failed to pass a bill in 2021 that sought to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. Japan is scheduled to host the annual G-7 summit in Hiroshima in May.

“A country whose government is leading the spread of discrimination itself is not eligible to host the G-7 summit,” said Sushi Matsuoka, who leads Fair, a human rights organization that advocates for LGBTQ people. Provides support.

Matsuoka said that if attention was diverted from the issue after Arai’s shooting, “the government will surely repeat the same thing over and over again.”

He called on Kishida’s administration to “immediately enact real legislation to protect the human rights of LGBTQ people.”

“As the country chairing the G-7, it is important to question Japan’s position on the international stage,” the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation said in a statement, citing Arai’s comments as a sign of tension. All executive secretaries of the administration expressed their views on same-sex couples. J-ALL, as the group is known, added that although Arai had retracted his remarks, “the Prime Minister’s views should be questioned as well as all members of the secretary’s office.”

Dismissing Arai, Kishida said his aide’s remarks were “totally inconsistent with the policies of the Cabinet’s approach to respect diversity and build an inclusive society.” Arai apologizes to Kishida for “my opinion, because she doesn’t think so”.

A petition stemming from the uproar called for Kishida’s administration to implement anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. As of Monday evening local time, it had more than 20,000 signatures. Previously, advocates had pushed for anti-discrimination legislation ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, emphasizing diversity and inclusion, particularly for LGBTQ athletes.

Marriage For All Japan, an organization involved in same-sex marriage litigation, submitted a document to Kishida’s office on Monday protesting the comments and demanding steps to legalize same-sex marriage. and appoint a Special Adviser on LGBTQ Rights.

Paul Nadeau, a visiting research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Initiative, said the remarks put Kishida in an “awkward place”. Kishida’s decision to fire Arai reflects his desire to keep LGBTQ issues out of the spotlight, he said, because going too far would anger his old, conservative base, and Going too far to the side will “highlight how far away [his party] is behind the common people.”

A 2021 poll by Japan’s Asahi newspaper found that 65 percent of Japanese voters supported same-sex marriage, up from 41 percent in 2015.

However, Joe Takeda, a professor of human welfare studies at Japan’s Kwansei Gakuin University, said that most Japanese who support same-sex marriage “don’t know (or care) that Japan is the only G-7 country that has Don’t see lagging behind same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights as a potential problem.

Takeda said that while many Japanese people support same-sex marriage, they place more importance on domestic issues such as the economy, so they continue to vote for Japan’s ruling conservative party.

Tokyo allows same-sex partnerships, but not as legal marriages.

Tokyo Prefecture moved to recognize same-sex unions last year, but much of Japan lacks a similar protocol. In November, a Tokyo court upheld a nationwide ban on same-sex marriage but said the lack of legal protections for such couples violated their human rights, raising hopes that Japan I can turn around LGBTQ rights.

While Japan may be one of the leading democracies for LGBTQ rights, it is not alone among its Asian neighbors in lacking protections for LGBTQ people or marriage equality.

Activists in South Korea have pushed for an anti-discrimination bill, but efforts to pass legislation in the socially and politically conservative country have been unsuccessful.

Taiwan, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2019, alone among its Asian neighbors in doing so. Thailand has taken steps towards doing so but has not fully endorsed such measures.

Mio Inuma reported from Tokyo.

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