Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the country's ban on same-sex marriage is not discriminatory, insisting that constitutional freedom of marriage only envisions heterosexual unions.
The comment triggered criticism that he is backtracking despite his recent apology and meeting with LGBTQ people. Mr. Kishida's governing Liberal Democratic Party is known for its conservative family values and stands as the main opposition to legalisation of same-sex marriage.
Asked by an opposition lawmaker at Tuesday's parliamentary budget committee if he thinks a same-sex marriage ban constitutes discrimination, Mr. Kishida said “I don't think disallowing same-sex couples to marry is unjust discrimination by the state."
Mr. Kishida had said after meeting with LGBTQ representatives in mid-February that he “strongly felt the need for discussion" and would consider the voices of the people and in Parliament, as well as rulings in several ongoing lawsuits and measures in local municipalities.
The Prime Minister on Wednesday repeated his position that a same-sex marriage ban “is not unconstitutional” and denied that he is prejudiced. “I believe I do not have a sense of discrimination (on the issue),” he said. “And I have never stated I'm against it.”
Former Kishida aide Masayoshi Arai's remarks last month about LGBTQ people had ignited nationwide outrage, and prompted a renewed push for the Kishida government to enact an anti-discrimination law even after the official was sacked. Mr. Arai told reporters in early February that he wouldn't want to live next to LGBTQ people and that citizens would flee Japan if same-sex marriages were allowed.
Toru Miyamoto, a Japanese Communist Party lawmaker, asked Mr. Kishida on Wednesday about his meeting with LGBTQ representatives and whether he really meant his apology. Mr. Miyamoto also noted recent media surveys and local government initiatives introducing non-binding same-sex partnerships, and told Mr. Kishida that support for same-sex marriage now represents the majority of public opinion.
Since the controversy erupted, Mr. Kishida appointed a special aide for LGBTQ issues and instructed his party to prepare legislation to promote understanding for LGBTQ rights.
Activists are now urging the government to enact anti-discrimination legislation before Japan hosts a summit of the Group of Seven industrialised nations in May in Hiroshima. Japan is the only G-7 member that has not recognised same-sex marriage.
But Mr. Kishida’s own previous comments — including that allowing same-sex marriage would change society and family values and must be carefully considered — are also seen as an indication of his reluctance to promote equal rights for LGBTQ people.