Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe is the sole naysayer during a debate among leaders of seven ruling and opposition parties held in Tokyo on July 3. (Yosuke Fukudome)

Parties have made noble-sounding campaign promises to support diverse values and lifestyles in their efforts to garner votes in the July 21 Upper House election.

One party envisions a society where “everyone will have an important role to play.” Another talks about helping the “potential of individuals to burst forth.”

But it is doubtful whether these campaign promises are really underpinned by concrete and workable policy proposals.

One symbolic scene unfolded during a debate among the heads of seven parties held at the Japan National Press Club the day before the official campaign period for the Upper House poll started.

When asked by a reporter whether they supported the proposal to allow married couples to use separate family names if they desire, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was the only party leader to refuse to raise his hand to show his position on the issue.

He vehemently defended his action by contending that “politics is not about yes or no.” He criticized the reporter, saying, “Stop trying to manipulate the public's image of me.”

It is hardly surprising that Abe was reluctant to make clear where he stands on the issue. In a national survey conducted last year by the Cabinet Office, a record 42.5 percent of the respondents voiced support for the idea.

About 50 percent of the respondents in their 50s and those who belong to younger age groups said “yes.”

More than 40 local assemblies have passed resolutions calling for the introduction of the system in the past three years or so. The Tokyo metropolitan assembly followed suit and took the action last month.

The LDP, however, has been alone in swimming against the tide by maintaining its adamant opposition to the proposal. When six opposition parties jointly submitted a bill to revise the civil code to allow married couples to use different surnames in June last year, the ruling party refused to debate the measure at the Diet, causing the bill to be left in political limbo.

Abe took a swipe at the question because he wanted to avoid causing the LDP to be seen as a party that is unable to respond to the changing times and refuses to debate such issues.

When the discussion shifted to the topic of separate surnames in TV talk shows and other similar public events, Abe usually avoided addressing the issue head-on by talking instead about such topics as the growing roles of women in society and economic growth.

He has also bragged about “a rise in the employment rate among women under the Abe administration,” stressing his administration’s efforts to promote the use of maiden names by women in official documents and at workplaces.

He is grossly mistaken.

A person’s name should not be treated as a tool for continuing to work after marriage or earning money to help make the nation richer.

It is an important element of the person’s identity and closely linked to the respect and dignity of individuals, a basic principle enshrined in the Constitution.

No parties or politicians, regardless of their political stripes, can make convincing arguments concerning the issue with their flowery campaign rhetoric or nice-sounding campaign promises unless they truly understand the essence of the issue.

Much the same can be said of the issue of same-sex marriage. In various opinion polls, the number of people supporting the idea of legalizing same-sex marriages has often been larger than the number of opponents.

The number of local governments that have introduced a system to sanction same-sex partnerships has grown to more than 20 since Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward blazed the trail in 2015.

This month, Ibaraki became the first prefectural government to adopt the system. But the LDP has criticized the move by calling it “premature” in a recommendation.

The common thread that runs through the systems of separate surnames and same-sex marriage is a positive stance toward increasing options for people with alternative values and lifestyles.

These systems are not designed to impose such values and lifestyles on other people or establish new social norms.

A society where each member is respected as an individual and subjected to no unreasonable discrimination would ensure that everyone can feel comfortable about being a part of it, whether he or she belongs to the majority or a minority.

Elections are crucial and an effective means to realize such a society.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 19