Otsuka Takashi on the Importance of Same-Sex Marriage in Japan

As the efforts of local governments to introduce same-sex partnership systems and local enterprises guarantee equal treatment to same-sex couples in regards to marriage welfare programs makes progress, the understanding of LGBT people has been improving across Japan.

This movement, inspired by the implementation of Shibuya Ward’s “partnership system” in 2015, shows no sign of stopping. However, this comes as no surprise. The American gay liberation movement of the 1960’s, which sought the acquisition of rights for gay individuals, found its way to Japan around the same time. One could say that today’s LGBT movement in Japan is an extension of earlier activism.

After all of these years, what does Otsuka Takahashi, the creator of gay rights activism in Japan, feel about the present trends surrounding LGBT individuals? How does he feel about same sex marriage?

We spoke with Otsuka Takashi’s about things such as his participation as a gay personality on the radio show “Snakeman Show” from 1970, work as an editor of Takurajima Book’s gay-themed three-part series in the 90’s, as well as the trends surrounding the gay community around the world and in Japan in Part 1 of our interview.

The Peculiarity of Discrimination in Japan, And The Difficulty of Fighting Against It

ーーYou came in contact with the American gay liberation movement quite early, and established the movement in Japan. However, it took quite a long time for the LGBT movement to become as lively as it is now. 

There are many that say that because the gay liberation movement came out of America, it doesn’t suit the circumstances in Japan. It certainly seems there is a sort of peculiarly to the discrimination that exists here.

Rather than being anti-gay, there is more of a sense that “it’s an embarrassment to be gay”.

Even if one discriminates, it’s not done consciously. It’s not thought of as something one shouldn’t do. However, anywhere you go, there’s a lukewarm sense of discrimination.

In regard to that sense, American-style methodologies did not directly apply the the situation in Japan. So while information made it to Japan, putting the methodologies into practice and beginning the movement here didn’t turn out well. I think that as the movement wasn’t developed to meet Japan’s unique circumstances, these factors slowed the movement down a little.

ーーThis rather invisible discrimination became visible due to the “The Provincial Training and Accommodation Institution for Young Men Incident”

In 1990, the gay and lesbian association “OCCUR”, was denied of their request to be treated indiscriminately by the “Tokyo Provincial Training and Accommodation Institution for Young Men” after facing discriminatory treatment from the organization running the venue. After this, OCCUR was denied further requests to use the facilities, on the grounds that they were “having a negative influence on young people”. In 1991, OCCUR sued the facilities on the grounds of the denial being a human rights violation. in 1997, OCCUR was decided as the winner of the case.

Yes, that was a factor. But that’s not to say the movement suddenly began progressing just because of that incident. Rather than a movement towards creating legislation to eliminate discrimination, there was more of a feeling like “those people are being noisy, so let’s avoid them”, and I think it actually had the opposite effect. Though the situation wasn’t fundamentally different, in order not to cause any problems, many chose to act as if there wasn’t any discrimination.

ーーEven now, conservative individuals against partnership ordinances and same-sex marriage still claim that discrimination in Japan is not that bad, don’t they?

That’s why we need to begin by clearly defining what constitutes as “discrimination”. We must get that out of the way first.

The first steps taken were things like partnership ordinances. When taking a step forward, there will of course be opposing reactions. Politicians making discriminatory remarks on twitter and so on. The fact of the matter is, many people are quietly thinking the same things, and it comes to light in these waysーー Just as with the “Provincial Training and Accommodation Institution for Young Men”, the discrimination against us becomes clear once they can label us as a group.

That indescribable feeling that emerges after coming out is something that I think is major concern. Now, because the number of people coming out is increasing, various reactions will probably come forth from this.

ーーNegative reactions will also become visible. 

As of now, due to the western influx of positive news regarding LGBT people, gay bashing has become difficult. As I mentioned earlier, when the politician tweeted discriminatory remarks towards LGBT people, the reaction of TV commentators wasn’t “you can’t say those kinds of cruel things against LGBT people”, they said “he doesn’t understand the current trends”. They didn’t clearly label his actions good or bad. I think it was a very “Japanese” reaction.

■Taking a step forward brings problems to light, creates solutions.

ーーOn the other hand, there are those who deal with LGBT people by denying their claims, saying “There are many other things we have to do”. They’re claiming there’s an order of precedence. 

I’ve certainly faced those opinions before. In 2015, I became a committee member of Shinjuku Ward’s Gender Equality Forum. We hold a lecture once a year in a community hall in Yotsuya, and while the committee members are publicly elected, the committee helps select who will speak at the lecture.

I came out in the committee and said, “Because I’m gay, if possible, I’d like to call on a gay speaker”. When I said this, another committee member said, “Wouldn’t it be better if we deal with that after solving worse problems such as domestic violence between men and women?”. How many years would it take to solve a problem such as domestic violence? I thought that many people are still unaware of the desperate situation surrounding gay people around the world and the seriousness of suicide in the community.

ーーIt’s important to find a solution to both domestic violence between males and females, as well as LGBT issues, isn’t it?

There’s another thing I felt there. When I came out, people permitted it, saying “It’s okay that you’re gay”. However, as soon as you try to take a step forward and make demands, their negative true intentions that they attempted to hold back are revealed.

And that’s precisely why I think coming out is so important. Coming out can be incredibly difficult, but I think it is important for these people to gradually make themselves visible in society.

Coming out may cause some problems to arise, but if one continues to assert themselves, the problems will eventually be solved. If we don’t do so, others won’t know if we exist or not. However, I think that the community is already moving towards becoming more visible. The idea that “gay people exist” is becoming more and more widespread among straight people.

ーーThe current situation seems favorable for the community, and the level of understanding seems to be increasing, but whenever something happens, there seems to be a big backlash. At these times, in order to not to lose the progress we’ve made, it might be important to show restraint when making demands. 

That’s why we must come forward one by one. Everyone doesn’t necessarily have to live completely openly, but by telling people, they can come to understand that their discriminatory behaviour may cause trouble or harm to others. I think it is important to increase the number of these allies.

■Supporting same-sex marriage under circumstances that don’t allow it

ーーDiscussions surrounding same-sex marriage have become more frequent.

Everyone holds their own beliefs regarding same-sex marriage. Coming out of the gay liberation movement, which I feel saved me, from a logical standpoint, I am completely for same-sex marriage.

Nevertheless, as for if I feel it’s in the best interest for two men to in a relationship to get married, I’d like to hold off a little before coming to any conclusions. In addition, those against it may have doubts, such as “is it really that important to keep a one to one relationship?”.

Moreover, same-sex marriage can’t be celebrated under the current circumstances. At the moment, I have adopted my partner.

ーーAdopting a partner isn’t exactly the same as same-sex marriage, but it allows some important rights such as inheritance. Therefore, while it’s not the original purpose of the system, many gay people have come to use the system in place of marriage, right? 

I quite like using this method as a way to bypass the laws. However, if same-sex marriage were implemented, as we are legally parent and child, even if we were to dissolve the adoption, it’s likely we wouldn’t be able to get married.

According to the Japanese civil code, even if an adopted male and female pair were to dissolve the adoption, they are unable to get married. It’s the same with America’s same-sex marriage system. Thus, those who used the adoption system before the implantation of same sex marriage would have to bring the issue to court. Due to this situation, the two of us think that it’s already too late to get married.

On the other hand, I thought it was interesting that in Brazil, three women have filed for a civil union. Like I mentioned before, it seems that opinions about whether relationships should be restricted to being one to one or not are already emerging.

■LGBT people don’t shine through same-sex marriage. LGBT people grant marriage its utmost shine. 

ーーIn the case of straight couples, the increase of the average age of marriage and the number of unmarried people is rising, and the institution of marriage seems to be becoming less stable. Do you think that is in part why same-sex marriage is becoming more permissible?

That might be a part of it. In June of 2015, the American Supreme Court calling the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional became a touching topic of conversation. When I read that, I thought the institution of marriage has attained its utmost radiance.

I think there are many that believe that by entering the marriage system, LGBT people become brighter through marriage, but I think that’s incorrect. Reading the judicial decision, which almost resembles a song of praise, I realized that LGBT people made marriage shine its brightest.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.

It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordere.

ーーWith LGBT being added, do you think that marriage might start to come apart? Or that the importance of same-sex marriage might diminish? The are also those (LGBT individuals) who don’t believe that same-sex marriage is important, such as those who don’t have long-term partners. There are those straight couples who divorce, and those who don’t believe in being married for life. 

I think it’s strange to talk of those who can and cannot keep a marriage while living with someone for a short time, like one or two years.

We should resolve the problems faced by people who are living with second-rate human rights, so I think that same-sex marriage holds a great deal of meaning. On a separate note, whether marriage is necessary for oneself is something to be thought about on an individual basis.

Nevertheless, ideals are important. If one reads the judicial decision I mentioned earlier, one may go as far to think, “well it seems that those who don’t get married aren’t worth much”. “Well, what is my life worth if I don’t get married?”, and may come to feel some animosity towards it. <laughs>

If we don’t have ideals and ideologies and just say same-sex relationships don’t really last that long, then that’s the extent of it. This is not limited to LGBT people. If we agree that it’s okay that theres inequality and do not have an ideology, then that will be the extent of the progress of rights. But I think that by having an ideology, the state of things will be able to change.

I believe it is important to live with an ideology.



Part 1 →Otsuka Takashi, Pioneer of the 90’s Gay Boom, on LGBT Progress in Japan

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