Photo/Illutration Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a Lower House Budget Committee session on Feb. 1. (Koichi Ueda)

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is taking heat for expressing hesitation in legalizing same-sex marriage saying that it would fundamentally “change society” and people's values.

When Chinami Nishimura, co-deputy president of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, argued for legalizing gay marriage at a Lower House Budget Committee session on Feb. 1, Kishida replied, “That’s a topic we should consider very carefully."

“Because it’s a topic that will change people’s perception of family, values, and society, it’s important to make a decision only after deeply contemplating the mood of the whole of society.”

Critics charge that the remarks show he is out of touch because society has moved on from the matter.

Takako Uesugi, co-leader of a group of lawyers representing plaintiffs in Tokyo court cases seeking marriage equality, said Kishida’s comments only hurt the LGBT community.

“A comment that would stir ambiguous uneasiness is the same as approval of discrimination,” Uesugi said.

Jun Azumi, the Diet Affairs Committee chairman of the CDP, told reporters on Feb. 2 that public opinion on same-sex relationships held by “society and the world have already changed.”

Polling shows that same-sex partnerships have indeed gradually become accepted throughout Japanese society.

In an Asahi Shimbun survey from 1997, 65 percent of respondents said they “cannot understand” same-sex relationships. But in a 2021 Asahi Shimbun survey, the same percentage of respondents said same-sex marriage “should be allowed.”

The issue is frequently appearing in courtrooms across Japan as gay couples continue to challenge the law.

The Sapporo District Court ruled last year that laws banning same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, but rulings out of Tokyo and Osaka upheld them as constitutional.

“When the judiciary is demanding the Diet’s response on this issue, (Kishida’s comment) sends a baseless, negative message," Uesugi said. "This comment represents a totalitarian belief that goes against respect for individuals. It shows the government hasn’t sincerely considered the issue.”

Because the central government has dug its heels in on the matter, local governments have issued their own partnership certificates to same-sex couples, but they do not offer the same legal benefits of marriage.

More than 250 local governments in Japan have introduced these kinds of systems, covering about 60 percent of the Japanese population.

(This article was written by Ryutaro Abe and Satomi Sugihara.)