National / Social Issues

Conservatives lash out at Shibuya Ward initiative to recognize same-sex relationships

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Conservatives are protesting a proposed initiative by Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward to acknowledge same-sex partnerships as equivalent to marriage, claiming it would upset traditional family values and hurt the nation’s birthrate.

A Tokyo-based citizens’ group submitted a petition on Wednesday to Shibuya Mayor Toshitake Kuwahara demanding that the proposal be withdrawn.

The same-sex initiative, tabled last month, is the centerpiece of a comprehensive draft statute on gender equality that the ward submitted to the municipal assembly last week for deliberation.

If approved, it would take effect as soon as next month and the ward could begin issuing certificates for same-sex couples as early as this summer.

The conservative group, dubbed Kyoiku Seijoka Suishin Nettowaku (Network Pushing for Normalization of Education), said in the petition that it believes Shibuya’s move would undermine the “familial system and practice that heterosexual unions have long preserved in human history.”

It also said marriage is widely defined in society as an institution that contributes to human propagation.

“We have no intention of denying the human rights of gay people,” said Hiroki Sasahara, who is among the junior but active ranks of the roughly 20-member group spearheading the protest. “But since it’s physically impossible for them to procreate on their own, we’re afraid creating such a framework could further exacerbate Japan’s falling birthrate.”

Sadakazu Tanigaki, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told a news conference on Tuesday he is concerned about the proposed move, saying that changing the current family model would “affect the very foundation of our society’s system and order.

“I think there would be huge repercussions in our society if a municipality began to address such a fundamental problem on its own when there is no related national law in place,” Tanigaki said.

Sasahara said he is aware of the discrimination that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Japan have long faced.

Same-sex couples often complain that they are not treated equally compared to their heterosexual counterparts in the eyes of the law. The failure to acknowledge same-sex relationships can pose problems when, for example, visiting a critically ill partner in a hospital, since the individuals are not generally viewed as related.

These problems, Sasahara said, are something that should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Calling for official recognition of same-sex relationships is too radical a step, and one that requires a nationwide debate first, he added.

The conservative group Ganbare Nippon! Zenkoku Kodo Iinkai (Committee Promoting Nationwide Action to Root for Japan) staged a vociferous protest against the initiative in front of the ward office and JR Shibuya Station on Tuesday.

The group, which was formerly chaired by ex-Air Self-Defense Force chief Toshio Tamogami, claims on its website that it upholds Japan’s traditional culture and history, and strives to boost a “sound national mentality.”

Witnesses said on Twitter that some participants in the rally were handing out fliers denouncing Shibuya’s proposed ordinance as likely to “put an end to future generations.”

Photos of the flier were also posted on the social media website.

“We should never trample on the basic model of our family, which is to raise children for the sake of future generations,” it said.

The photos showed that it was penned by Kodomo Tachi no Mirai wo Mamoru Shufu no Kai (Group of Housewives Determined to Protect the Future of Our Children).

Recognizing same-sex relationships would amount to “a sacrilege against humanity,” the flier stated.

Article 24 of the Constitution is often interpreted as banning same-sex matrimony, as it identifies marriage as “based only on the mutual consent of both sexes.” Some legal experts are opposed to this view, however, arguing the clause was meant to declare the principle of gender equality between married partners.