Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last week dismissed one of his aides for making disparaging remarks about same-sex relationships. The official, Masayoshi Arai, had said that he “doesn’t even want to look” at same-sex couples and would “not want to live next door” to them.
Kishida apologized for his aide’s comments, saying, “The remarks are totally inconsistent with government policy. And it is regrettable that they caused misunderstanding among the public. I also apologize to those who felt uncomfortable because of the remarks.”
But while it is true that the Japanese government does not have an explicitly anti-LGBT position, the federal government denies LGBT people equal protection of the law. And a recent study puts Japan next to last in a ranking of laws on LGBT inclusiveness for developed countries. With Japan hosting the International Group of Seven (G7) summit in Hiroshima in May, pressure is mounting for the government to live up to its peers.
Japan offers no legal recognition of same-sex couples at a national level. Despite that, some 260 municipalities and 11 prefectures have established a “partnership oath system,” or unofficial recognition for these couples – demonstrating widespread support for marriage equality across the country.
Japan also lacks nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, despite a resounding campaign calling for an “Equality Act” to be introduced.
Also, Japan forces trans people who want to legally change their gender to appeal to a family court. Under the Gender Identity Disorder (GID) Special Cases Act, applicants must undergo a psychiatric evaluation and be surgically sterilized. They also must be single and without children younger than 20.
Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party will reportedly revive a shelved LGBT bill for submission to Japan’s Diet, or legislature. But the bill is limited as it only encourages the promotion of understanding of LGBT people and does not protect against discrimination or uphold other rights.
Kishida was right to hold his staff accountable for bigoted remarks. But Japan should do more, and this LGBT bill falls short. The next step is to take a deeper look at much-needed reforms to national laws and policies that will protect LGBT people in Japan, a move that would improve Japan’s record of upholding its human rights obligations.