The results of the general election could be instrumental for the passage of legislation relevant for Japan’s LGBTQ+ community. The topic has become increasingly salient for Japanese voters, while topics such as “North Korea” and the “Northern Territories Dispute” have faded somewhat to the background. There is not a single major ‘vote match’ tool for the 2021 Lower House election that doesn’t feature a question about ‘same-sex marriage” and almost every party manifesto also mentions it. At this point – and almost regardless of the outcome of the election – the question isn’t whether Japan will achieve marriage equality, but how soon it will happen.
The LDP is now the only major party actively opposing marriage equality, but there are prominent supporters of marriage equality within the ranks of the LDP. During the LDP leadership race, Kono Taro voiced his approval of the policy and pressed his opponent Kishida Fumio to admit his opposition to the policy, in front of the cameras, making it safe to assume that pressing Kishida on the point could give Kono an advantage among certain supporters. The LDP’s opposition still has practical implications for the issue’s progress. Although the left-of-center opposition parties have repeatedly shone a light on marriage equality and argued for its implementation, the LDP has been able to stall progress thanks to its sheer strength in the Diet. But the majority of Komeito candidates now say they are in favor of recognizing marriage equality, and the party itself also states that it should be implemented. This means that even if the LDP-Komeito coalition retains its majority in the Lower House, progress on same-sex marriage wouldn’t necessarily be off the table for the coming Diet sessions. But it’s hard to say for sure whether Komeito would use such an opportunity to explicitly align itself with the opposition on this topic. In response to questions from HuffPost Japan, Komeito talked about working on relevant legislation first. But it goes without saying that the LDP would have a much harder time stalling the debate if it finds itself without the absolute majority it currently enjoys.
While the LDP is the only major party actively opposing marriage equality, the issue might still progress even if the LDP retains its majority
It would still not be impossible for marriage equality legislation to be passed through the Diet even if the LDP maintains its majority. Aside from Kono Taro, several other LDP candidates have also explicitly indicated their personal approval of marriage equality. Supporters are in the minority within the party but the main bulk of LDP candidates remains silent about their standpoint. Despite the issue’s political salience, the LDP’s manifesto also avoids mentioning the topic. While the current party leadership clearly opposes the policy, it does not incorporate this opposition into its campaign strategy. Although prominent voices in the ruling party have stoked fears about the supposed choice between “liberal democracy and communism”, they haven’t gone around telling people that a loss for the LDP would be the end of the traditional family or anything of the sort. Rather than marriage equality becoming a “wedge issue” to divide voters and motivate the base, the LDP’s preference seems to be to avoid the topic if possible, perhaps because they know they are in the minority on the issue.
Above all, what is notable about the LDP’s approach towards the topic is the way it articulates resistance against the idea of implementing same-sex marriage. Instead of voicing disapproval on moral grounds, the LDP has stated that constitutional amendments would be necessary. Important party figureheads argue that “a careful approach is needed”, and “that the understanding of the people must first be deepened.” When Kishida himself was asked for his views during the race for LDP leadership, he stated he had “not reached the point of accepting same-sex marriage”, without elaborating why. With a district court ruling the current lack of marriage equality is unconstitutional, and even 53 percent of LDP supporters saying they think the policy should be implemented, such argumentation doesn’t appear to be particularly convincing.
While a strong LDP wouldn’t have much difficulty keeping the issue stalled, a weakened LDP, even if it doesn’t need Komeito to stay in power, will be much more inclined to bargain with other parties or listen to the opinions of the electorate. An election loss could also lead to internal questions about the direction in which the party is headed, such as whether it was the right decision to opt for the more socially conservative Kishida instead of Kono Taro. The rest of Japan appears ready to act on marriage equality and the general election may help reveal how soon that may happen.
Emily Boon is a Masters student at Leiden University, currently majoring in Asian Studies and International Relations. She has a BA in Japanese Studies and was formerly an intern at the LeidenAsiaCentre. Having written her bachelor's thesis on the spread of so-called "partnership systems", Emily's research interests center primarily around local politics and LGBTQ+ politics