Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has been on the defensive ever since his secretary quit over bigoted remarks towards LGBTQ people. Despite the controversy, Kishida keeps insisting that now isn’t the time for marriage equality in Japan.
The call for equality
Same-sex marriage has been a hot issue in Japan for years now. And for years, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has refused to take action.
As a result, local jurisdictions have tried to pick up the slack. As of this writing, 255 municipalities in Japan recognize same-sex partnerships via some form of Partnership System. This covers 65.2% of the population (in no small part thanks to Tokyo, which implemented its own partnership system last year). 4,186 couples have registered under these partnerships systems as of December 31st, 2022.
A secretary out, a conversation begins
Despite this groundswell, PM Kishida has fiercely resisted calls to put forward legislation that would recognize same-sex marriages nationwide. Kishida drew particular ire for saying that recognizing same-sex marriage would “change society”, using language that implied he viewed this change as malignant and unfortunate.
Shortly after Kishida made this statement, his secretary, Arai Masayoshi, made blatantly anti-LGBTQ remarks to the press, saying he didn’t want LGBTQ people living near him. The backlash was intense. Within 48 hours, Kishida announced that he’d fired Arai.
Ishikawa Taiga Rises
Arai’s comments resurrected a national discussion about whether Japan has done enough to protect the rights of its LGBTQ citizens. Activists and LGBTQ allies called for the national government to take action on marriage equality.
Kishida, however, still wasn’t budging. He stated in Japan’s Diet that he didn’t think the national government’s refusal to pass marriage equality amounted to “unfair discrimination”.
So one politician in Japan decided to make things a little more personal.
48-year-old Ishikawa Taiga (石川大我) has been out and active in Japan’s LGBTQ community since at least the 2000s. He’s a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP; 立件民主党, rikken minshutou) as part of its proportional representation block. He’s served since 2011 and was recently re-elected in 2019 to his current four-year term.
In a recent session of Japan’s Diet, Ishikawa confronted Kishida over his waffling. Sporting a rainbow flag-colored mask, Ishikawa bluntly asked, “When will I be able to marry the person I love?”
As we first reported on our Twitter, Kishida continued his waffling, saying, “That will be determined by the success of our efforts to deepen society’s understanding.”
It’s not clear, though, exactly whose understanding Kishida feels Japan needs. Polls in the wake of the Arai incident show clear public support in Japan for same-sex marriage rights. A recent Nikkei poll found 65% support across the board. Even more interesting, 58% of voters within Kishida’s own LDP support it.
Despite Ishikawa’s moving plea and the efforts of activists, Japan’s ruling party shows no signs of bending on this issue. Instead, Kishida has put forward a bill that aims to foster “understanding” of LGBTQ issues and to clamp down slightly on discriminatory rhetoric. Kishida’s cabinet scuttled the bill last year after the conservative faction of his own party rose up against it.
【同性婚】「私はいつ愛する人と結婚ができるようになるんでしょうか」立憲・石川議員が岸田総理に“直談判”. Asahi TV News
岸田首相、同性婚を認めないのは「国による不当な差別でない」と発言し批判される. BBC News Japan
同性婚に賛成65% 自民支持層でも58% 本社世論調査. Nikkei
岸田首相、LGBT理解増進法案「成立に向け努力」 参院予算委. Mainichi Shimbun