Despite Broad Public Support, Japan’s LDP Balks on Marriage Equality

Despite Broad Public Support, Japan’s LDP Balks on Marriage Equality

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Word for marriage equality in Japanese (同性婚)
Picture: Ystudio / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party will likely not move on marriage equality - even though a majority of its own supporters approve.

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (自民党; jimintou) is set to begin debate this week on a bill to foster “understanding” of LGBTQ people. However, it’s unlikely to include any provision that recognizes same-sex marriages. That puts it out of step with the Japanese public – and even with its own supporters

The debate over “understanding”

At issue is the Bill to Advance Understanding of LGBT People, or the LGBT Understanding Bill (LGBT理解増進法案). The bill recognizes LGBTQ people and sets forth policies at the central, prefectural, and municipal government level to promote greater social understanding of the issues they face.

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio had originally pushed for this bill last year. It fell by the wayside due to opposition from members of his own party.

However, in February, Kishida’s press secretary made undeniably discriminatory comments about LGBTQ people. The backlash was so intense that Kishida had no choice but to fire him. He also resurrected the LGBT Understanding bill in a bid to show his administration takes the issues of LGBTQ people seriously.

The LDP aims to pass the bill before the G7 Summit planned in Hiroshima in May. Japan is the only country in the G7 alliance that has no national legal protections for LGBTQ people.

The LGBT Understanding Bill’s uphill climb

Japanese and LGBT flag

Kishida’s bill faces opposition from two different sides.

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First, hard-right members of his own party oppose the bill. The bill explicitly states that Japan “won’t tolerate discrimination.” Yes, that’s the part the hard-liners have a problem with. They maintain that courts could use the passage to limit their freedom of speech (read: the freedom to spout slurs).

Others oppose the bill due to the recognition it would grant transgender people. The bill’s advancement has stirred a lot of anti-transgender activism in the country swirling around “concerns” regarding men pretending to be trans women to enter women’s bathrooms and public baths. The rhetoric mirrors similar scare tactics used in the US.

On the other hand, members of the political opposition say the law doesn’t go far enough. They say the time is ripe to pass a bill that not only promotes “understanding”, but that recognizes crucial rights for LGBTQ people. At the top of the list is marriage equality. While civil partnership systems at the local level cover over half of Japan’s populace, a national right to marriage remains elusive.

Even LDP members agree: make marriage equality law

Given the opposition within his own party to the bill in its current tame state, it’s pretty certain Kishida won’t move to include marriage equality in the final proposal. That puts him at odds with public sentiment in Japan – and even with his own party’s constituents.

Numerous newspapers, TV stations, and activist groups have run polls on support for marriage equality in Japan. But perhaps none is more striking than a poll by Sankei Shimbun and Fuji News Network in February 2023.

Sankei is not what you’d call a “liberal” newspaper. It is, in fact, one of Japan’s staunchest right-wing papers. The company runs the English-language site JAPAN FORWARD, which says it seeks to portray Japan in a “positive” light – but also frequently runs pieces by fringe Western scholars denying the existence of Korean sex slavery in World War II.

However, even Sankei can’t outrun the numbers. Sankei and FNN polled an unspecified number of participants over two days on both the LGBT Understanding Bill and on marriage equality (same-sex marriage; 同性婚). A majority expressed approval of passing the LGBT Understanding Bill. That includes 57.2% of people who identify as members of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Source: Article by Sankei Shimbun

But the shocker comes in the support for marriage equality. Even more people – over 70% – support same-sex marriage. And a full 60.3% of self-identified LDP members say it should be law.

Not surprisingly, younger generations of Japanese have less of an issue with marriage equality than older ones. Among 18-29 year olds in Japan, 91.4% support making same sex marriage law.

Commentator: “I wish [the hardliners] would just give up”

Given this broad public support, it’s a wonder that hardliners can maintain any opposition. Indeed, many of the objections seem tepid and lack virulence.

In a recent article for Mainichi Shimbun, TBS Radio commentator and social justice activist Ogiue Chiki noted that right-wingers are very careful to avoid any language that sounds discriminatory. Their key reason for not advancing the bill is that they want to have a “more serious debate” on the underlying issues.

“That’s not a sustainable stance you can hold onto in the face of public change,” Ogiue argues. “I wish they’d just give up quickly.”

In other words, marriage equality is pretty much settled as a matter of public opinion in Japan. The only question is when the LDP’s hardliners will give in and admit they’ve lost the fight.

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Sources

(いちからわかる!)LGBT理解増進法案、首相は前向きだけど. Asahi Shimbun

「LGBT理解増進法案」が自民党内で議論 G7広島サミット前の成立が焦点. TBS News Dig

「自民の反対派はあきらめて」 進まぬLGBT法整備 荻上チキ氏. Mainichi Shimbun

LGBT法案、同性婚法制化…自民支持層の過半数が賛成. Sankei Shimbun

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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