A group of lawmakers on Tuesday launched a multiparty caucus to examine discrimination against sexual minorities in a move expected to further intensify debate ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The group, led by Liberal Democratic Party member and former education vice minister Hiroshi Hase, Democratic Party of Japan policy chief Goshi Hosono and Komeito member Masaaki Taniai, said it is planning to study overseas laws on same-sex unions as well as canvass the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The group, however, has no plans to draft any bills relating to sexual minorities, Hase, who heads the caucus, told reporters after its first meeting.
“The first step is not to discriminate against (sexual minorities). As Diet members, we must study and think about issues they are facing in their social lives,” Hase said.
As of Tuesday, 38 lawmakers had joined the group, including 13 LDP members and 12 from the DPJ, the largest opposition party.
Hase said Japan needs to deepen its understanding of the LGBT community before it hosts the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
He said he became conscious of sexual minority issues last year, when many Western leaders skipped attending the Sochi Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony.
The boycott was widely considered to be in protest of anti-gay legislation passed by Russia in 2013. Following the snub, the International Olympic Committee last December adopted proposals to add sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination policy.
Hase said the recent groundbreaking proposal in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward to issue certificates to same-sex couples that would acknowledge their relationships as being “equivalent to marriage,” means Diet members must learn about the difficulties faced by sexual minorities.
Even though it would not be legally binding, the Shibuya proposal was welcomed by same-sex couples who often face discrimination in their daily lives, such as moving into an apartment together or visiting a partner in a hospital, on the grounds that they are not family members.
According to a survey of 21 of Tokyo’s 23 wards by The Japan Times last month, Bun-kyo intends to consider measures to recognize same-sex partnerships, while Setagaya Mayor Nobuto Hosaka said he will consider measures to publicly recognize same-sex couples as families.
However, a similar move in the Diet is likely to take much longer, observers say.
Last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Diet the Constitution “does not envisage marriage between people of the same sex.”
He also said “extremely cautious consideration would be required” to consider changing the Constitution on this matter.
LDP Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki also expressed concern about the Shibuya Ward proposal last week.
He said it could become problematic for a municipality to deal with the issue on its own when there is no related law.