Japan on Friday passed a much-contested bill to promote understanding of the LGBT community amid criticism that the legislation provides no human rights guarantees and may tacitly encourage some forms of discrimination.
Japan, the only Group of Seven (G7) nation with no legal protection for same-sex unions, had originally pledged to pass the law before hosting the G7 leaders’ summit from May 19 to 21.
However, wrangling over the bill and its wording meant it was only submitted to parliament for consideration the day before the summit began.
It passed the more powerful lower house on Tuesday even after some lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party broke rank with party directives and either were absent altogether or left while the voting took place.
The initial draft stipulated that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity should “not be tolerated” but was changed to “there should be no unfair discrimination”, wording critics say tacitly allows bigotry.
“Though the original bill was not especially meaningful, I thought it was better than nothing,” said Takeharu Kato, a lawyer and member of “Marriage for all Japan,” an activist group, prior to the bill’s passage.
“But now I’ve begun to think it might be better to have nothing at all.”
Japan has come under pressure from other G7 nations, especially the United States, to allow same-sex marriage. Economic leaders have said they fear Japan will not be able to remain internationally competitive without greater diversity, including representation for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Opinion polls show a vast majority of Japanese approve of same-sex marriage. Roughly 70% of the country now allows same-sex partnership agreements, although the partnership rights fall short of those guaranteed by marriage.