National

Japanese gay rights activists, academics say U.S. marriage ruling may help their cause

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Gay rights activists and legal experts said Monday they hope the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage will give impetus to moves in Japan to embrace sexual diversity and go a long way toward initiating calls for legalization of gay marriages here.

“I believe the ruling showed the court’s understanding that marriage equality is not something determined at the whim of the state, but guaranteed to every human being universally,” said Taiga Ishikawa, an openly gay member of the Toshima Ward Assembly in Tokyo.

Ishikawa said the development supports his belief that the global trend is toward legalizing same-sex marriage.

Japan’s close relationship with the U.S. suggests Japanese policymakers and municipalities will take the ruling very seriously, Ishikawa added.

Although Japan has no national law to recognize same-sex marriages, it has seen a shift in public attitude toward the lesbian, gay, and bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in recent years.

Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, for one, passed an ordinance in March to issue certificates granting people in same-sex unions what it calls a status “equivalent to marriage.”

Maki Muraki, head of the non-profit group Nijiiro Diversity (Rainbow Diversity), agreed that the U.S. ruling will facilitate such moves to embrace LGBT equality.

Unlike some parts of the globe where homosexuality is considered a crime or is a target of religious persecution, seldom do Japan’s sexual minorities fall victim to explicit homophobia. The lack of deep-set antagonism toward LGBT communities means the U.S. ruling is likely to resonate with the Japanese public, Muraki said.

“I’m sure the ruling will bring about some positive change” in the way Japanese people perceive the issue of same-sex marriage, she said.

A frequent lecturer on the need for LGBT equality in the workplace, Muraki, who is a lesbian, said the ruling will potentially prompt Japanese companies operating in the U.S. to review their policies or revamp their systems to cater better to their LGBT employees and clients.

Meanwhile, Hiroyuki Taniguchi, an associate professor of gender law studies at Takaoka University of Law in Toyama Prefecture, said the U.S. ruling, in which Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy declared gays and lesbians entitled to “equal dignity in the eyes of the law,” could help LGBT rights activists argue that Japan’s failure to recognize same-sex marriage violates this nation’s Constitution, which also guarantees human dignity.

While agreeing that the ruling heralds a further blossoming of Japan’s LGBT civil rights movement, Tokyo-based lawyer Keiji Kato pointed out that actual legalization of same-sex marriage still seems a long way off.

Despite the recent uptick, Japan’s LGBT activism is inchoate compared with that of the U.S. Although religious persecution against sexual minorities is virtually nonexistent, many conservatives are opposed to the idea of legalizing same-sex marriage on the ground that doing so would upend Japan’s “traditional family values,” Kato said.

“That said, I do believe the ruling will at least trigger moves similar to what we saw in Shibuya Ward and drum up support for the idea of granting sexual minorities the same social infrastructure as non-LGBT people.”

In Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, Mayor Tomoko Nakagawa expressed surprise and delight Monday at the ruling.

“I was very surprised when I saw the news and thought, ‘Wow,’ ” she said in a written comment to The Japan Times. “In Japan, only a few local governments have begun such discussions. In an age that accepts diversified ways of living, Japan should also open such a discussion at the national government level, since local governments are limited in what they can do.”

Meanwhile, the municipal assembly there has formally expunged the comments of LDP member Shigeta Okochi, who said last week that the city’s plan to support sexual minorities would encourage lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people and make Takarazuka “a center of HIV infections.” Okochi later withdrew the remark and apologized.

Staff writer Eric Johnston contributed to this story from Osaka