(Bloomberg) -- Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida apologized for discriminatory comments made by one of his aides last week, reiterating the government’s policy of “respecting diversity and creating an inclusive society.”
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“The recent comments made by the aide are completely contrary to government policy, and we have made the decision to promptly relieve him of his duties as Secretary to the Prime Minister,” Kishida told reporters Monday. “I regret any misunderstanding that may have arisen among the public regarding the government’s policy direction, and I apologize to anyone who may have been offended by it.”
Masayoshi Arai, a secretary to the premier, was dismissed over the weekend after telling reporters in an off-the-record briefing that he didn’t want to look at same-sex couples or have them live next door to him. He added that some people would abandon the country if same-sex marriage were to be introduced.
Among the Group of Seven major democracies, Japan is the only one without a legal system for same-sex unions, something campaigners say causes problems in areas from immigration to inheritance and medical treatment. Business groups have also said the lack of such provisions puts them at a disadvantage in competing for global talent.
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Arai’s remarks came after Kishida told lawmakers last week that “extreme caution” was needed in deliberations on same-sex marriage and implied it would be seen as a negative change. His long-ruling and conservative Liberal Democratic Party tends to boast stronger support among older voters, who polling shows have been slower than younger Japanese to embrace LGBTQ rights.
Ahead of the most recent election in October, six major opposition parties pledged their support for legislation to protect LGBTQ people in Japan, according to Kyodo News. Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Komeito, did not.
“I take seriously the fact that the Prime Minister’s secretary has been removed from office due to his inappropriate comments,” Komeito party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said Monday. “I hope that there’s an increase in moves to clearly explain the direction of the diverse, inclusive society that the Kishida government seeks, and moves to improve understanding of LGBT and other issues while listening to those who are LGBT.”
A survey carried out by the Mainichi newspaper and Saitama University from November 2021 to January 2022 found 71% of respondents aged 18-29 said same-sex marriage should be legally recognized. The number fell to 25% of those 70 or above.
Local governments, including Tokyo, have sought to provide support by offering partnership registration systems, though these do not carry legal weight and still leave couples facing problems with lack of recognition of their relationship.
Marriage equality groups are also pursuing a series of cases through Japan’s courts, claiming damages arising from the lack of rights for same-sex couples. Results so far have been mixed, and a verdict is due in a Nagoya case on May 30.
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--With assistance from Hiroyuki Sekine and Emi Urabe.
(Updates with comments from Fumio Kishida and Natsuo Yamaguchi)
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