Prospects that legislation addressing LGBT issues will be introduced before the Group of Seven summit is held in Japan later this month have dimmed due to division within the nation's ruling party.
After his former close aide made discriminatory remarks against sexual minorities earlier this year, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been under mounting pressure to pass a law to protect Japan's LGBT community, with the Asian country lagging behind other G-7 members on the issue.
With the G-7 summit set to get underway in Kishida's home constituency of Hiroshima in less than three weeks, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party has restarted a debate over a bill aimed at bringing in legislation promoting understanding of the LGBT community.
But it is unclear whether such a law will be enacted before the international gathering amid deep-rooted opposition among conservative LDP members who cherish so-called traditional family values in which men are the main breadwinners and women primarily raise children.
Even if the envisioned legislation is put into force, Japan would still lag behind other G-7 nations that have already instituted laws prohibiting discrimination against sexual minorities and legalizing same-sex marriage or civil unions.
Japan has a poor track record on the issue. A survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed the nation ranked 34th out of 35 countries in terms of LGBT inclusion legislation in 2019, down from 22nd in 1999.
The treatment of sexual minorities has been in focus since Kishida sacked one of his executive secretaries in February after he said he would "not want to live next door" to an LGBT couple and does "not even want to look at them."
Media polls have shown that public opinion has shifted toward accepting same-sex marriage, but political experts said Kishida remains cautious about the LGBT issue for fear of splitting his ruling party by upsetting its conservative members.
Hitoshi Komiya, a professor of Japanese political history at Aoyama Gakuin University, said the LDP's support base comes from those who value traditional family values, while those who are open and accepting of LGBT people lean toward supporting opposition parties.
This is why many LDP lawmakers have been reluctant to devote resources to crafting LGBT legislation as it would potentially benefit their political opponents, Komiya added.
Although Kishida leads a dovish faction within the right-leaning LDP, he is not as progressive as opposition lawmakers and does not seem willing to make LGBT rights a priority, Komiya said.
In May 2021, around two months before the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the ruling and opposition parties agreed on a draft bill designed to facilitate understanding of the LGBT community, but the LDP eventually decided not to submit it to the parliament.
Conservative members of the LDP objected to a phrase in the draft bill that stipulated "discrimination is unacceptable" on the grounds that the definition of what behavior would be considered discriminatory is vague.
Ahead of the G-7 summit, which is scheduled to run for three days from May 19, calls have been growing both at home and abroad for Kishida's government and the LDP to take necessary steps to improve their understanding of the LGBT community.
In late April, Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito, asked Kishida to pass the LGBT legislation before the G-7 summit. The self-claimed "peace party" is backed by Japan's biggest lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai.
Recently, Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, urged Tokyo to implement measures to advance LGBT rights through frequent posts on his official Twitter account. He emphasized the need for Japan to create an environment where LGBT individuals can "feel at home."
The equality countdown begins now. As I said at Tokyo Rainbow Pride and will say again: no one should have patience when it comes to equal rights for all. This is the time, this is the moment to have your voices heard and our values adhered to as the Diet meets today. It's time…— ラーム・エマニュエル駐日米国大使 (@USAmbJapan) April 25, 2023
At their meeting in Japan in April, the G-7 foreign ministers reaffirmed they would promote the welfare of sexual minorities, following the release of a joint communique at the 2022 summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany that pledged to guarantee their well-being.
In Japan, however, there are no legal provisions that ban discrimination against LGBT people or recognize same-sex marriage.
Soshi Matsuoka, executive director of the advocacy group Fair, said Japan is currently not qualified to draft a post-G-7 summit communique concerning LGBT issues, as it lacks any law that deals with the matter.
Matsuoka, who is openly gay, expressed hope that other G-7 members will make Japan realize the country has fallen behind on human rights, while prompting Tokyo to enact a law to support the LGBT community.
If the LGBT legislation takes effect, Kishida might boast of the achievement on the occasion of the Hiroshima summit, but Japan's slow response may result in it being subject to "ridicule" in the eyes of the international community, Matsuoka said.
Should Japan fail to pass such a law before the G-7 summit, it would send a message to the world that the nation is "not committed to safeguarding the rights of sexual minorities," Matsuoka said.
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