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Japan's Public Is Ready for Change on LGBTQ Rights. Is the Government?

Running Numbers by Craig Kafura
AP Photos
Participants smile as they march with a banner during the Tokyo Rainbow Pride

Polling shows the Japanese public supports recognizing same-sex marriages, even as officials stall on legislation to advance equality.

It’s Pride Month in the United States—but not in Japan. In Japan, Pride is celebrated in a two-day festival in late April, ahead of the long stretch of holidays known as Golden Week.

This year’s Pride celebrations—including the first full Pride parade in Tokyo in four years due to pandemic restrictions—came at a moment of debate in Japan. In the courts and in the Diet, Japan is debating whether to recognize same-sex marriages and how to recognize and protect its LGBTQ population from discrimination and harassment.

International Pressure on Japan to Advance LGBTQ Protections

Japan’s LGBTQ debate hasn’t just been a domestic issue. In the run-up to the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan’s debate came into international focus, with Japan as a clear outlier among G7 nations: Japan is the only country in the G7 not to recognize same-sex unions.

International attention has also led to international pressure. In an unusual show of involvement on what is normally considered an issue of domestic politics, foreign diplomats joined together ahead of Japan Pride to call on the government to advance marriage equality. The effort was spearheaded by US Ambassador to Japan (and former mayor of Chicago) Rahm Emanuel, who has been a prominent voice urging the Japanese government to advance marriage equality—often to criticism from more conservative voices in the country.

Japanese Public Broadly Supportive of Marriage Equality

Those conservative voices aren’t winning the public debate, however. Instead, in polls taken throughout 2023, between six and seven in 10 Japanese consistently say they support legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Most recently, an April 2023 TBS/JNN poll found 63% of Japanese in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. Support is especially strong among younger Japanese. As TBS reported, among those aged 18-30, large majorities of women (90%) and men (75%) supported legal same-sex marriage, while women and men over the age of 60 were less supportive (49% of women, 39% of men). Nor is opposing same-sex marriage a popular position among supporters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP): a February 2023 Nikkei poll found two-thirds of Japanese (65%) in favor of legal same-sex marriage, including 58 percent of LDP supporters.

bar chart showing public support for same-sex marriage

As a point of comparison, public support for same-sex marriage in Japan is actually slightly higher than American support for marriage equality was when the US Supreme Court made their landmark ruling in 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. Per Gallup, 58 percent of Americans supported marriage equality in July 2015, shortly after the ruling on June 26 of that year.

Slow Movement Despite International Pressure and Public Support

The international attention on Japan may have pushed the Diet to move more quickly than it would have otherwise. But for LGBTQ activists, the Diet’s actions are not enough. They argue that the bill’s text, written to compromise with more conservative LDP members, does not address their concerns and provides no new protections to LGBTQ people in Japan.

Courts in Japan, meanwhile, have ruled on both sides of the issue. This May, a Nagoya court found that Japan’s failure to recognize same-sex marriages violated the constitution—and the next month, a Fukuoka court ruled that a ban was constitutional despite noting concerns about the human rights of same-sex couples.

There are also efforts at local levels across Japan to create legal arrangements that recognize same-sex relationships, with the ‘partnership system’ gaining traction in cities across the country in recent years. However, these partnership arrangements are limited in scope and do not provide the same level of legal protections and guarantees afforded to married couples.

Despite the slow pace of change in Japan, pressure on the government is unlikely to abate any time soon. In addition to high levels of public support and international pressure, Japan’s business community has an interest in seeing Japan recognize marriage equality: after all, foreign LGBTQ workers at multinational firms do not want to move to a country where their marriage is not legally recognized. These forces will continue to push the government to join other G7 nations in recognizing marriage equality and will keep LGBTQ rights on the political agenda for Japanese leaders.

Learn More

If you want to learn more about the LGBTQ community in Japan, their experiences, and what the political debate in Japan means for them, I recommend the Japan Times’ Deep Dive podcast on the topic.

About the Author
Director of Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
headshot of Craig Kafura
Craig Kafura is the director of public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a Security Fellow with the Truman National Security Project, and a Pacific Forum Young Leader. At the Council, he coordinates work on public opinion and foreign policy and is a regular contributor to the public opinion and foreign policy blog Running Numbers.
headshot of Craig Kafura

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