The lower house of Japan’s parliament has passed a bill aimed at raising awareness and understanding of LGBTQ+ issues. However, the bill has faced criticism from activists who claim that last-minute revisions made by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s conservative party favoured opponents of sexual equality rather than ensuring equal rights.
The bill was approved after a brief few hours of debate in a lower house committee, which is an unusually short period for such an important matter. It is expected to be swiftly passed by the parliament’s upper house, which is also controlled by Prime Minister Kishida’s governing bloc.
Notably, Japan is the only country among the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations that does not have legal protections for “LGBTQ+ individuals.” While there has been growing support for same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights among the Japanese public, opposition remains strong within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. This party is known for its conservative values and reluctance to promote gender equality and sexual diversity.
Since a former aide to Prime Minister Kishida expressed opposition to living next to LGBTQ+ individuals and suggested that allowing same-sex marriage would drive people away from Japan, LGBTQ+ activists have intensified their efforts to advocate for anti-discrimination legislation.
However, the final version of the bill passed on Tuesday does not explicitly prohibit discrimination, despite stating that “unjust discrimination” is unacceptable. This omission appears to be a result of opposition from some lawmakers within the governing party who are against transgender rights. They argue that more consensus-building is necessary before implementing anti-discrimination measures.
Critics of the bill argue that it prioritises the concerns of opponents of equal rights over the rights of sexual minorities. They highlight that the bill acknowledges that the public’s understanding of various sexual orientations and gender identities is insufficient but fails to clearly address this issue.
In a recent development, a court in Fukuoka ruled that the lack of legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals in Japan may be unconstitutional. This ruling followed four other court cases brought by 14 same-sex couples in 2019, with four courts deeming the government’s current policies unconstitutional or nearly so, while one court upheld the ban on same-sex marriage as constitutional.