The Liberal Democratic Party’s panel on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity unveiled its basic position in a report released in late April. In view of the party’s stance expressed not long ago concerning the difficulties confronting LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) people, a close watch is needed to see whether the LDP’s approach is convincing and effective.

The panel calls for legislation to be drawn up that would deepen understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity but doesn’t legally ban discrimination against LGBT people.

Shortly before the Lower House election in 2014, a citizens’ group based in Ehime Prefecture surveyed political parties to ask whether they thought problems faced by LGBT people should be dealt with as human rights issues. The LDP stood out among the parties in replying that there was no need to view their difficulties in this light. A glance at the LDP panel’s report indicates that, in principle, the party’s stance has not changed much.

The report points out that LGBT people face various difficulties at home, school and in society at large, that discrimination and prejudice exist, that they are often psychologically hurt by what others say about them and that sexual orientation and gender identity are not a matter of choice. It says that Japanese people were historically rather tolerant about diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity since medieval times, citing such things as onnagata (male kabuki actors playing women) and “Torikahebaya Monogatari,” a literary tale from the late Heian Period evolving around an exchange of gender roles between siblings from the aristocratic class — a boy and a girl — that leads to bizarre developments. Despite such traditions, it goes on to say, contemporary society in Japan does not show much understanding of diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity. Against this background, the report calls for efforts to establish a society that accepts diverse sexuality.

The basic tenet of the LDP’s approach becomes clear when compared with draft legislation prepared last year by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (now the Democratic Party) that aims to “promote eradication of discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.” The draft says that all the people, irrespective of orientation, must be respected as irreplaceable individuals who equally have basic human rights. It would prohibit employers from discriminating against workers on grounds of their orientation or identity, and would empower a Cabinet minister to issue recommendations to employers — and disclose their names if they refuse to follow the recommendations.

The LDP report, without referring to LGBT people’s human rights, says that before everything, efforts must be made to eliminate the difficulties these people are facing, But the party is reluctant to advocate an outright ban on discrimination. It says that establishing such a legal prohibition before public understanding deepens might result in people unintentionally discriminating against LGBT people and possibly isolating the LGBT people themselves. The report calls for first enacting legislation designed to increase awareness instead of a law banning discrimination. The logic is difficult to understand — and will not be accepted by many LGBT people who actually face discrimination.

The LDP panel’s report does call for solving various problems confronting LGBT people in Japan. But its intentions may be questionable given what the party says in its draft amendment to the Constitution released in 2012 and the basic thinking of another LDP panel on the protection of family values. Section 1, Article 24 of the draft amendment says that a family is a natural and basic unit in society and must be respected.

Since the panel on “protection of the bond of a family” is basing its work on the assumption that a family consists of a man, a woman and their children, it would not be unreasonable to think that the constitutional amendment’s emphasis on the importance of family is based on an assumption that families continue to exist through the reproduction of children. It is understandable if LGBT people, who in most cases do not reproduce, think the provision represents a denial of their existence.

The report calls for creating a society in which sexual minorities do not have to feel the need to “come out.” Again, this argument is hard to understand because the report says the present legal system should be left unchanged. The system is a major factor behind the difficulties and discrimination LGBT people are facing, for example, in matters of inheritance, social welfare benefits and consent for a medial operation for a partner. Such a situation is one of the reasons why LGBT people decide to come out, hoping that other people will understand the difficult situation they are placed in as well accept them as equals.

The LDP panel fails to mention introduction of same-sex marriage or a partner system that would accord to same-sex couples the same rights enjoyed by married couples — institutions that could help reduce the burdens of LGBT people.

When Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward passed a by-law to issue certificates to same-sex couples to reduce bureaucratic difficulties for them, most LDP assembly members voted against it. People should ponder whether the party’s report merely pays lip service to the concerns of LGBT people in hopes of attracting votes in the upcoming Upper House election.

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