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Japanese political party positions on separate last names and same-gender marriage

Taiga Ishikawa is the first openly gay politician to be elected to national office in Japan.

This post about politics in Japan comes after the recent House of Councillors (the upper house of the Diet, sort of the equivalent to the House of Lords in the UK) election, so it isn’t very timely unfortunately. I just couldn’t get this site up and running in time. But that’s OK, since my primary interest in politics isn’t the politics themselves, but what they can show about current Japanese society.

Here I am taking a look at two issues that are about individual rights vs. than financial issues like the increase of or whether Japan’s constitution should be amended to allow the Defense Force to become a full fledged military.

A Japanese site called Senkyo dot com (Elections dot com) put together a handy list of the official positions of each party on the major issues. Somewhat surprisingly, only one minor party is totally against both issues.

The right to keep ones original family name (surname)

The first issue is the right for married couples, especially women, to have different, legal surnames from their spouses, which in most cases means keeping the name they were born with. Currently, married couples must share the same surname legally, and in most cases that’s the surname of the (male) husband. But of course many woman have many legitimate reasons for wanting to keep their surnames. In a few rare cases the husband agrees to take his wife’s surname, but when that happens he is formally adopted into her family, which involves a whole set of other paperwork besides getting married. (It used to be quite common for men to adopt his wife's family name, but that was usually done for the sake of inheritance or continuing that name. I'll have more on that at a date.)

It is getting more and more acceptable for women to keep using their surnames on a “known as” basis (like a stage name; alternate names are used far more often in Japan than in the west, besides people in show business). But many women want to also have the right to keep their surnames legally.

Legalize same-gender marriage

This issue is as it says - make same-gender marriage legal, as a key part of more recognition of LGBTQ rights. The LGBTQ community has become increasingly visible and politically vocal in the past decade. One of the new House Councillors is Taiga Ishikawa (pictured above) of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), the first openly gay politician to be elected to the national government. (Another openly gay candidate running in the same election, Hiroko Masubara, lost her race.)

The official party positions on separate legal surnames and same-gender marriage

Here are the positions on the two issues by the top 8 parties. I have included where they lie on the political spectrum for people who aren’t familiar with Japanese politics. The parties are listed in the with the ruling coalition first, followed by the opposition parties in the order of the number of elected officials they have.

1. Liberal Democrats (LDP): center-right to right (with some far-right factions)

  • Prime Minister Abe’s party. They are part of the ruling coalition with the Komeito. The LDP has been the ruling party for most of the post-WWI period.
  • Average age of supporters: 56.1
  • Percentage of female supporters: 14.6%
  • Position on legal separate surnames: Cautious
    “Encourage the widespread use of the original family name. Make it possible to list the original name on official documents like the residence register (住民票, a document required a lot for proving ones legitimate residency and so on) and the My Number Card (an official photo ID card with a Social Security Number-like ID number).”
  • Position on legal same-gender marriage: Cautious
    On LGBTQ rights in general: “Encourage legislation that recognizes the rights of and increases understanding of LGBT people.” Note that a handful of LDP politicians have made virulently anti-LGBTQ statements.

2. Komeito: center-right to right

  • Founded by lay members of a Buddhist sect called Soka Gakkai. Part of the ruling coalition with the LDP.
  • Average age of supporters: 46.6
  • Percentage of female supporters: 8.3%
  • Position on legal separate surnames: Positive
    “Open debate in parliament about making separate family names legal.”
  • Position on legal same-gender marriage: Cautious
    On LGBTQ rights in general: “Encourage legislation that recognizes the rights of and increases understanding of LGBTQ people, with the aim of creating a more diverse society.”

3. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP): center-left to left

  • Formed after the breakup of the Democratic Party, mainly by the left-leaning members of that party. Leads the opposition bloc.
  • Average age of supporters: 49.1
  • Percentage of female supporters: 45.2%
  • Position on legal separate surnames: Positive
    “Legalize separate family names.”
  • Position on legal same-gender marriage: Positive
    The CDP is the one party that has a consistent LGBTQ-friendly policy platform. The two openly gay candidates who ran in the recent elections are in the CDP.

4. Democratic Party For the People: center to right

  • Formed after the breakup of the Democratic Party, mainly by the right-leaning members of that party with the remnants of Tokyo Governor Koike’s flash-in-the-pan Kibo no To (Hope Party).
  • Average age of supporters: 52.3
  • Percentage of female supporters: 35.7%
  • Position on legal separate surnames: Positive
    “Legalize separate family names.”
  • Position on legal same-gender marriage: Cautious
    On LGBTQ rights in general: “Pass anti-LGBTQ-discrimination legislation”. Cooperate with various organizations to decrease discrimination and harassment of LGBTQ people."

5. Japanese Communist Party: left

  • Actually the oldest political parties in Japan in continuous existence, founded in 1922.
  • Average age of supporters: 48
  • Percentage of female supporters: 55%
  • Position on legal separate surnames: Positive
    “Legalize separate family names, and work towards eliminating any gender discrimination on official family registries.”
  • Position on legal same-gender marriage: Positive
    The Communist Party is also very LGBT-rights positive.

6. Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party): center-right to far right, or “neo-conservative”, whatever that may be

  • Not officially part of the ruling coalition, but they will most likely vote with the coalition. Unlike other parties, their power base is in Osaka.
  • Average age of supporters: 52.5
  • Percentage of female supporters: 31.8%
  • Position on legal separate surnames: Cautious
    “Keep the current system of one family name per couple (family unit), but increase recognized use of the former family name”
  • Positioning on legal same-gender marriage: Positive
    This was a bit surprising to me actually.

7. Social Democratic Party: center-left to left

  • Formerly the Socialist Party
  • Average age of supporters: 52.5
  • Percentage of female supporters: 31.8%
  • Position on legal separate surnames: Positive
    “Legalize separate family names.”
  • Position on legal same-gender marriage: Positive
    “Push forward to marriage equality legislation, to make same-gender marriage feasible.”

Other parties

All the other parties that have stated positions on these issues are cautious to positive, with the exception of the far-right Happiness Realization Party, which is strongly negative on both. Some single-issue parties like the Party to Protect Citizens from the NHK or the Consideration the Euthanasia System (sic) don’t have positions.

Of note on the individual rights front is that two severely disabled candidates from a new party, the Reiwa Shinsengumi, were elected. 61 year old Yasuhiko Funago has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and 54 year old Eiko Kimura has cerebral palsy. The able-bodied leader of the party, actor Taro Yamamoto, didn’t get in though. (More here and here. )

Conclusion

Although the platform statements by the LDP and the Komeito seem rather weasel-y and avoiding the issue-ish, they are not outright negative either. My unreliable gut feeling is that same-gender marriage may become legalized before separate family names are, because the Japan is so deeply embedded in the “family register” system. Legislation would move along a lot faster if the LDP coalition were knocked out, but that did not happen in the recent elections, and isn't likely to happen any time soon.

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