Photo/IllutrationLiberal Democratic Party lawmaker Mio Sugita yells at a comment made by an opposition party member. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party finally took action after two weeks of failing to condemn lawmaker Mio Sugita’s homophobic views in a magazine article she wrote that sparked harsh online criticism and a public protest.

The LDP posted on its website on Aug. 2 that it had issued an "instruction" to the Lower House member to be more aware in the future about expressions that show a lack of understanding about sexual diversity, as well as consideration to the relevant parties.

In response to questions from The Asahi Shimbun, Sugita issued a statement saying she sincerely accepted the party's view and would "endeavor" to improve her understanding of the issues.

Sugita’s article appeared in a monthly magazine that went on sale on July 18. Referring to gay couples, she wrote, "Those men and women do not reproduce. In other words, they are 'unproductive.' I wonder if it is appropriate to spend taxpayer money on them."

Many LDP members hold traditional views about the family, regarding it mainly as a husband, wife and many children, so it may not come as a surprise that it took the party two weeks to respond to the outcry.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also for the first time touched upon Sugita's magazine article on Aug. 2.

"It is the policy of the government and ruling party" to seek a society where human rights and diversity are respected, Abe told reporters.

However, the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation issued a statement the same day describing the LDP move as "insufficient" since no mention was made if Sugita intended to retract her magazine article after accepting the party's instruction.

Kohei Otsuka, the co-leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, said Abe's comment was "extremely superficial, and it gave no indication he understood the seriousness of the issue."

While the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) has begun considering legislation that would allow same-sex marriages, the LDP has been unable to gain a consensus on even a vaguer bill that would urge greater understanding about sexual orientation and gender identity.

The controversy over Sugita again brings to light how behind the times the LDP is on sexual diversity from an international standpoint.

The day the article was published, Kanako Otsuji, a CDP Lower House member, blasted Sugita’s argument on Twitter, and criticism spread elsewhere too.

However, high-ranking LDP officials such as Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, and even Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga either brushed aside such criticism or declined to comment on Sugita's viewpoint.

But the LDP could no longer ignore public sentiment after a large demonstration in front of its Tokyo headquarters on July 27 called for her resignation.

A video posted on social networking services showed journalist Yoshiko Sakurai explaining that Sugita received the official endorsement from the LDP for the 2017 Lower House election, in part, because Abe considered her to be a wonderful politician.

The spread of that video led some members of the LDP faction to which both Abe and Sugita belong to raise concerns that the focus of criticism could shift to the prime minister.

Shigeru Ishiba, the former party secretary-general who is expected to challenge Abe in the September LDP presidential election, criticized Sugita's article from July 27, raising the possibility the issue could be a major topic of that election.

Such developments apparently led to discussions among LDP executives and the party's special mission committee on sexual orientation and gender identity to discuss how the party should respond.

While that led to the official party response eventually taking shape on Aug. 2, SNS opinion was scathing toward the party’s slow response.

There are also signs that some LDP executives are still unaware of the seriousness of the issue.

Meeting with reporters in Seoul, which he was visiting, Nikai said on Aug. 2, "Issues such as this should not be blown out of proportion."

He effectively reiterated an earlier comment that the party would not take issue with Sugita and consider any disciplinary action since individual politicians are entitled to their own political views.

(Yuki Nikaido contributed to this article.)