Out in the World: Japan's PM apologizes for anti-same-sex marriage comments, fires top aide

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Friday February 10, 2023
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Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a news conference at the Liberal Democratic Party after he was elected as party president in Tokyo, in September 2021. Photo: Du Ziaoyi/Pool Photo via AP
Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a news conference at the Liberal Democratic Party after he was elected as party president in Tokyo, in September 2021. Photo: Du Ziaoyi/Pool Photo via AP

Rather than roses and chocolates to start the month that celebrates love, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and one of his top aides faced criticism within parliament and from the public for comments seen as being anti-same-sex marriage, even after apologies were offered.

On February 4, Kishida fired his top aide, Masayoshi Arai, a career civil servant in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, for his anti-LGBTQ comments. Arai had joined the prime minister's staff in 2021 as an executive secretary in charge of media relations.

LGBTQ organizations in the country took the opportunity to push for Japan to pass an equal rights law before the East Asian country hosts the Group of Seven meeting of leading industrial nations in Hiroshima in May, reported ABC News.

The dustup started February 1, when Chinami Nishimura, co-deputy president of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, argued for legalizing same-sex marriage at a Lower House Budget Committee session.

Kishida responded to Nishimura's argument, stating same-sex marriage is a "topic we should consider very carefully." He continued, arguing that it is a topic that "will change people's perception of family, values, and society" in Japan's conservative traditional family structure.

"It's important to make a decision only after deeply contemplating the mood of the whole of society," Kishida told committee members.

Following Kishida's statements to the committee, on February 3 Arai responded to reporters' questions, stating all the prime minister's senior aides oppose same-sex marriage, the Wall Street Journal reported, quoting Japanese newspaper The Mainichi Shimbun.

Arai added he "wouldn't like it if [LGBT couples] lived next door" and he "doesn't even want to look at them," responding to questions following Kishida's comments. The former aide also warned that many people would leave Japan if the country passed same-sex marriage.

Arai's comments were supposed to be off the record, reported the Asahi Shimbun news site.

Kishida recoiled from Arai's statements the next day, calling them "outrageous" and "completely incompatible" with his government's policies, reported the BBC. He dismissed them, stating, "We have been respecting diversity and realizing an inclusive society."

Kishida, the leader of Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party, apologized for his comments in parliament February 6. Arai apologized February 3, stating that his comments were inappropriate and did not represent the prime minister's views.

Japan's unified local elections will be held in April, reported Asahi Shimbun.

Japan is the only G-7 nation that does not recognize same-sex marriage. In 2021, Japan's legislature failed to pass a bill that would have protected sexual orientation and gender identity from discrimination. The other G-7 countries are the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, and Italy.

Japanese LGBTQ organizations questioned if Japan should host the G-7 summit based on its lack of human rights for LGBTQ people.

Soshi Matsuoka, who leads Fair, an LGBTQ human rights organization, told the Washington Post, "A country where the government itself is leading the spread of discrimination is not qualified to host the G-7 summit."

Matsuoka called on Kishida's administration to "quickly enact actual legislation to protect the human rights of LGBTQ people."

A Change.org petition calling for Kishida's administration to enact anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people has received more than 50,500 signatures as of February 9.

This isn't the first time that Japanese LGBTQ activists have pushed for an anti-discrimination law to be passed. LGBTQ Japanese groups called for anti-discrimination legislation ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

Kishida's views

The prime minister and his aide's comments appeared to be out of touch with the Japanese public when it comes to same-sex marriage.

Kishida faced an intensive committee session February 8. Opposition parties were supposed to question him on his position with LGBTQ people at the Lower House Budget Committee the same day, reported Asahi Shimbun.

Japanese lawmakers and LGBTQ advocates denounced Kishida and his former Arai's comments.

Kenta Izumi, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters in Tokushima, "The atmosphere in the prime minister's office has become a far cry from the government's slogan of inclusiveness and diversity," reported Asahi Shimbun.

"The remarks were exclusivist and terrifying and have the potential to divide society," Izumi said.

Opposition politician Jun Azumi, who is chair of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan's parliament affairs committee, said Japanese people's and the world's opinion of same-sex relationships "have already changed," reported Asahi Shimbun.

He criticized Kishida and Arai's statements and wanted to hold the PM accountable for appointing and retaining for so long a secretary who held anti-LGBTQ opinions.

Japanese people have indicated in polls they are ready for marriage equality.

Asahi Shimbun surveys in 1997 and 2021 showed that Japanese attitudes toward same-sex marriage flipped, the Japanese newspaper reported. In 1997, 65% of respondents said they "cannot understand" same-sex relationships. In 2021, the same percentage of respondents said same-sex marriage "should be allowed."

More than 250 local governments in Japan now issue partnership certificates to same-sex couples. The certificates do not offer the legal protections that marriage provides.

Several Japanese same-sex couples have filed lawsuits that are at various stages of Japan's legal system.

In 2021, the Sapporo District Court ruled that laws banning same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. However, in 2022, courts in Osaka and Tokyo ruled a ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.

Japan's first openly gay member of parliament, Taiga Ishikawa, tweeted February 7, "Now is the time to legalize same-sex marriage." He vowed to do his best to address the issue.

In September 2022, Ishikawa told the Bay Area Reporter during his visit to San Francisco that he was confident that marriage equality would come to Japan during his six-year tenure in office.

Kishida's approval ratings have plummeted to around 30% since last year following several of his senior ministers resigning due to various scandals, reported the BBC and Reuters.

Among the ministers was Mio Sugita, an internal affairs and communications vice minister. Sugita quit in December following controversial comments about LGBTQ people, and about Japan's indigenous Ainu community, reported Reuters.

The 150-day ordinary parliament session began January 23.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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