EXPLAINER: Is Japan making progress on same-sex marriage?

Monday, 6 March 2023 14:30 GMT

Plaintiffs, lawyers and supporters march as they head to the court which will rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, in Tokyo, Japan, November 30, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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Japan's gay rights are under scrutiny following a row over homophobic comments by a top government aide
  • Opposition party submit bill to legalise same-sex marriage
  • Prime minister says current ban is not discriminatory
  • Two in three Japanese surveyed back same-sex marriage

By Seb Starcevic

March 6 (Openly) - Japan's main opposition party has submitted a bill to legalise same-sex marriage, as the ruling coalition comes under increasing pressure to deliver reform.

The Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) submitted the bill to parliament on Monday.

The conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the largest party in the ruling coalition, has long resisted calls to allow gay marriages.

"I don't think disallowing same-sex couples to marry is unjust discrimination by the state," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a member of the opposition last week, according to news reports.

A recent scandal over homophobic comments made by a government aide has cast scrutiny over the government's stance on the issue, with polls showing the majority of citizens now support gay unions.

Here are all the details:

What rights do same-sex couples have in Japan?

Japan is the only country among the Group of Seven nations that does not recognise same-sex marriages or unions.

Because they are not allowed to marry, gay couples cannot inherit each other's assets and are denied parental rights over each other's children.

Numerous local governments across Japan issue "partnership oath" certificates to same-sex couples to recognise their relationships.

Though partnership certificates from municipalities cover about 60% of Japan's population, they do not give same-sex couples the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

In November, a Tokyo district court ruled the national gay marriage ban was constitutional, but said the lack of a legal system to protect same-sex families infringed on their human rights.

Norimichi Takashima, a Tokyo-based translator who married his husband in Canada, said the couple cannot claim the same tax deductions or company benefits routinely given to married couples, take out a family phone plan or joint loan, or apply to adopt children.

He said gay couples were also vulnerable to "indirect homophobia and discrimination" in Japan, which does not outlaw anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.

"Our applications for apartment renting got rejected because owners didn't want to rent to two guys," he told Openly.

What does the public think of gay marriage?

A poll last month by the Kyodo news agency showed 64% of respondents were in favour of recognising same-sex marriage.

It is in line with previous surveys that have found growing support for same-sex unions in Japan.

However, older people - a bedrock of support for the LDP - are more likely to be opposed.

Japan's laws on LGBTQ+ issues are relatively liberal compared with many Asian countries, with same-sex relations legal since 1880, but being openly gay remains largely taboo.

What has the government said?

Many members of Japan's government oppose same-sex marriage, though several senior members have spoken out in support.

In 2019, opposition parties proposed a bill to legalise same-sex marriage, but the government would not debate it.

Kishida has said the issue needs close examination as it may "change the concept of family values as well as society".

He last month fired an aide who said he would not want to live next to an LGBTQ+ couple, and then met with LGBTQ+ campaigners to hear their experiences.

The prime minister told the activists it was the "first time he realised the situation was so widespread and difficult", said Gon Matsunaka, head of LGBTQ+ community centre Pride House Tokyo, who was among those who took part.

Following the controversy, the LDP's policy chief also pledged to advance a bill to promote understanding of sexual minorities, according to media reports, though it is unclear what form it will take.

What do activists want?

Activists hope the international focus brought by May's G7 summit in Hiroshima will increase pressure on the government to protect LGBTQ+ rights under law, moving Japan in line with other highly developed countries.

Along with same-sex marriage, the top reforms sought by activists are anti-discrimination laws and more "humane" laws for transgender people, said Matsunaka, speaking shortly after the meeting with Kishida last month.

"I hope this controversy and the G7 summit will be used to establish a legal system and create a society in Japan where the human rights of LGBTQ+ people are protected", he said.

This story was updated on March 6, 2023, to include the CDP filing a draft bill on same-sex marriage.

Related stories:

Most Japanese favour recognising same-sex marriage - survey

Japan PM Kishida fires aide over same-sex couple outburst

Japan court rules same-sex marriage ban is not unconstitutional

(Reporting by Seb Starcevic in Melbourne; Additional reporting by Lucy Middleton; Editing by Sonia Elks. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit https://www.context.news/)

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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