Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Saturday that he has sacked his close aide after he made discriminatory remarks about sexual minorities, with public support for the Cabinet continuing to fall against a backdrop of unpopular policies and ministerial scandals.
Masayoshi Arai, an elite bureaucrat who until Saturday served as executive secretary to Kishida, told reporters at the prime minister's office late Friday that he would "not want to live next door" to an LGBT couple and that he does "not even want to look at them."
He also said during an off-the-record conversation with reporters that if same-sex marriage is introduced in Japan, it would "change the way society is" and "quite a few people would abandon this country."
Kishida said at a press conference that Arai's remarks were "completely inconsistent with the policy of the Cabinet," adding, "We have been respecting diversity and realizing an inclusive society."
Arai's replacement has dealt another blow to the Cabinet, for which approval ratings are nearing what is widely seen as the "danger level" of 30 percent after four ministers resigned over a roughly two-month period last year due to various scandals and gaffes.
The popularity of the Kishida administration has been also decreasing in the face of criticism that his government's plan of raising taxes to fund a planned expansion of the defense budget has been put forward without first conducting a review of where savings could be made by cutting unnecessary public spending.
Arai, a bureaucrat from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, later apologized and withdrew his comments after the Japanese media made them public. He said the remarks did not reflect Kishida's own thinking.
Nevertheless, the day after Arai's comments came to light, Kishida, who recently expressed wariness around introducing same-sex marriage to Japan, decided to replace him. Sadanori Ito, director of the ministry's personnel division, will take Arai's post.
Arai's comments came after Kishida struck a cautious tone at a parliamentary session last week about legally recognizing same-sex marriage in line with other Group of Seven states that have already adopted the practice.
"We need to be extremely careful in considering the matter as it could affect the structure of family life in Japan," Kishida said, amid the filing of several lawsuits across the nation by same-sex couples.
Japan has not legally recognized same-sex marriage as many members of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, led by Kishida, have opposed the concept, emphasizing the country's traditional values such as the role of women in giving birth and raising children.
The 150-day ordinary Diet session began on Jan. 23. The latest gaffes about LGBT people will likely prompt left-leaning opposition bloc lawmakers to grill Kishida over his views on family affairs in Japan, political experts said.
Late last year, LGBT issues in Japan drew fresh attention as LDP lawmaker Mio Sugita, the then parliamentary vice minister for internal affairs and communications, was pressured to retract past remarks against sexual minority couples.
Sugita, who was effectively sacked by Kishida in December, came under fire in 2018 for saying in a magazine article that the government should not support sexual minority couples because they cannot bear offspring and thus are not "productive."
Japan remains the only G-7 nation that does not legally recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions.
Kishida, meanwhile, has promised to focus on improving child care in 2023, while it is still unclear how the administration would cover the costs of implementing the proposed measures.