A monk and a drag queen chat about religion and sexuality next to a neon Buddha with a halo of rainbow colors. Ahead is a life-size diversity mascot, in the shape of an egg with a mohawk, shaking hands and hugs with visitors queuing to take a selfie.
It is the second day of Japan’s Rainbow Pride, which is being organized again for the first time in three years. Thousands of people have come to a park in central Tokyo to celebrate their sexuality.
It is a party with good food, dancing couples and performances by well-known Japanese musicians. LGBTI activists give speeches about the growing acceptance of sexual minorities. But despite the colorful decor and cheerful spectators, a serious note can be heard in the words that echo through the speakers: same-sex marriage is still banned in Japan.
Generation gap in acceptance of same-sex marriage
An opinion poll earlier this year showed that nearly two-thirds of Japanese people are in favor of same-sex marriage. Support is highest among young people, with around 90 percent of people in their twenties saying it should be legalized.
“I want to get married too,” says Daiki Yoshioka. He was a finalist of the Mr. Gay Japan Contest, a competition of young gay rights activists. Now he volunteers to hand out flyers with a helpline for people who are struggling with their sexuality. “The mental stress you experience in Japan is great. It’s changing, but there’s still a big stigma that we need to get rid of.”
It is the older generation of conservative politicians who oppose same-sex marriage. “I don’t want to live next to them,” a top adviser to Prime Minister Kishida told a group of journalists. “I don’t even want to see them,” he continued unabashedly. It caused a nationwide riot and he was summarily fired. Within the regent LDP party there were politicians who defended the man; he wouldn’t have meant any harm.
In an attempt to calm things down, the government introduced an anti-discrimination law to protect sexual minorities. Due to interference from Conservative politicians, and over the course of several debates in parliament, little of it has survived. Even if the law is passed, the most important legal texts have already been deleted. On top of that, there is a notable omission: same-sex marriage.
Registered partnership without rights
Due to the lack of national legislation, municipalities have set to work themselves. Around 65 percent of the Japanese population now lives in a city or village where gay couples can use registered partnerships. It should prevent discrimination when renting a house and provide local tax benefits. It sounds promising, but offers little protection.
In practice, companies and organizations are still allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexuality. Gay couples find it difficult to take out mortgages, adopt children and in some cases they are even excluded if their partner is in hospital.
“I want Japan to change,” says Yuki Furihata. She came to Pride to support her friends. “But when I went to vote in the last election, there wasn’t a single politician in my district who wanted to talk about same-sex marriage,” she continues. “Who should I vote for then? I just don’t know.”
Along one side of the Pride grounds is a row of tents set up by embassies from different countries. The Dutch embassy is also present. He says that LGBT rights are high on the agenda in diplomatic relations with Japan.
The US ambassador also criticized this month at a speech in Tokyo. “Speaking up and taking action for LGBTI people is clearly policy of the Biden administration,” he said.
Japan is the only country in the G7 – the group of largest industrialized countries – that does not have same-sex marriage or a nationally registered partnership. This is seen as a disgrace by domestic activists.
“We have yet to become a developed country when it comes to love,” says Japanese actress Chizuru Azuma. She tries to spread awareness for gay rights with her fame on Pride. “In Japan you hear more and more people speaking out, and even within the LDP there are a few politicians around. The pressure is growing.”
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