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LDP’s LGBT bill moving forward after five years on shelf, opposition expected

  • March 25, 2021
  • , Asahi , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

By Yuki Nikaido, staff writer

 

Some Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) legislators are taking the initiative to enact a law that promotes people’s understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity by the end of the current Diet session. The bill was originally formulated in 2016 and later shelved. With both the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and the recent ruling of Sapporo district court bringing external pressure to bear, the LDP, which is normally slow to act, is now being pushed to do so.

 

Since the start of the Diet session, the LDP’s “Special Mission Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” (Chair: Former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada) planned at least to submit the bill. Committee members hope to present the bill “before the Olympic Games at the latest,” because the basic principle of the Olympic Charter upholds rights and freedom from any discrimination, including on account of sexual orientation.

 

The ruling of the Sapporo District Court on March 17 stating that denying same-sex couples access to legal means to receive even partial benefits from legal status of marriage constitutes discrimination. The court judged that provisions of the civil code that don’t recognize same sex marriage are in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality under the law. This was a warning to Japan’s legislative branch for neglecting its duty to facilitate an appropriate legal framework.

 

After the ruling, Inada revealed her intention to enact the law during this Diet session. “Although the LDP is cautious in its approach to the same-sex marriage issue, the party is nevertheless aiming for an enactment of the law to promote understanding of LGBT,” she said.

 

The drafting of the bill is almost finished. The bill sets such goals as “implementing measures to enhance the Japanese people’s understanding” and “realizing a society that is open to diversity” and is designed to serve as a basic law that stipulates roles to be played by the central and local governments. It also includes a mandate to formulate a basic plan, publish progress reports, and establish a liaison council of relevant agencies.

 

The bill’s enactment, however, will likely be delayed by strong opposition from conservatives.

 

Strong and robust opposition likely

 

The LDP’s initiative on LGBT was born from a sense of crisis within the party. In February 2016, Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward announced it would issue domestic partnership certificates to same sex couples–the first such initiative in Japan. In December 2016, the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan drafted a bill aiming at stopping discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The LDP’s special commission was established to take control of the discussion as an anti-discrimination movement accelerated in local governments and opposition parties.

 

During the commission’s initial meeting, its original chairman and former minister in charge of the abduction issue Keiji Furuya expressed a “sense of crisis” over the actions by interested groups, stating that the movement to recognize same sex marriage under law and to grant the groups authority to make recommendations are incompatible with [the LDP commission’s] sound efforts.”

 

A pamphlet distributed among LDP members at the time stressed that “recognizing same sex marriage is at variance with our position” and “we must carefully examine the ‘partnership system’ before granting approval.” The commission’s discussion was limited to measures to resolve difficulties faced by sexual minorities, separating these from the issue of same-sex marriage, which would impact the traditional form of the family. The word “promote understanding” was chosen because “stop discrimination [based on sexual orientation]” would inevitably lead to acceptance of same-sex marriage.

 

Still, conservatives strongly opposed the LDP initiative. In April 2016, Reitaku University Professor Shuji Yagi contributed to the Sankei Shimbun an article in which he criticized the commission for “naively inviting people from the LGBT community to hear their opinions.” Upper House member Masashi Nishida and others rejected the draft bill at a party meeting. Although the party pledged to introduce a lawmaker-sponsored bill as part of its policy agenda in the general election, the bill was effectively shelved.

 

“The atmosphere inside the LDP has changed over the past five years,” says a leading member of the commission. An LDP source pointed out, however, “If an element of the LDP’s support base, for example, the Association of Shinto Shrines [Jinja Honcho], opposes the initiative, there would be a strong backlash, just like in the case of separate surnames.”

 

Initiatives by the LDP and others concerning sexual minorities

2004

“Act on Special Cases in Handling Gender Status for Persons with Gender Identity Disorder” was enacted, enabling people to change their gender on the family registry.

2014

The LDP answered a private company’s questionnaire during the Lower House election campaign, stating: “Measures for people with gender identity disorder are necessary, but not necessary for people with same-gender orientation.”

2015

Tokyo’s Shibuya and Setagaya Wards started officially recognizing same-sex couples.

2016

The LDP established “Special Mission Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” to draft a bill to promote understanding. Four opposition parties submitted a bill to stop discrimination.

2017

LDP General Council Chairman (at the time) Wataru Takeshita said that he attended a dinner party hosted by the same-sex partner of a foreign head of state. Takeshita later “regretted” the decision.

2018

LDP Lower House member Mio Sugita contributed an article titled “Too Much Support for LGBT” to a monthly magazine, claiming that same-sex couples are “not conducive to reproduction.” The LDP issued her “guidance” over the misstep.

2019

Three opposition parties submitted an amendment to the civil law to allow marriage of same-sex couples.

2021

Sapporo District Court ruled provisions of civil law that deny rights of same-sex couples to marry are unconstitutional.

 

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