TV & Radio
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Japan city's move to change pro-gay law draws ire
A Japanese city's plan to amend a precedent-setting local law on gender equality and discrimination against homosexuals has set off protests by activists who say the law is being watered down.
The plan coincides with growing concern among conservatives about a breakdown in traditional values, worries that prompted the government to include a caveat against trying to erase all sex-based differences in a gender equality plan last year.
The local assembly in Miyakonojo, a city of 171,000 some 900 km (560 miles) southwest of Tokyo, this week began debating a revision to a 2003 city law that explicitly bans discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.
Proposed changes to the law, called the "Law for a Gender Equal Society", would revise a sentence that reads: "In a gender-equal society, human rights should be respected for all people regardless of gender or sexual orientation."
The new phrasing would be: "In a gender-equal society, human rights should be respected for all people."
City officials say the change would make the law, which comes to a vote on Sept. 22, easier to understand.
"We feel that by saying 'all people' it's understood that this includes everybody," said Meiko Kawasaki, who is in charge of gender equality.
"As we see it, our position hasn't changed," she said, adding that the city will issue a guidebook on enforcing the law saying there should be no discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.
Activists, however, were outraged.
"We do not understand the reasons behind this at all," said Kanako Otsuji, a prefectural assembly member from the western city of Osaka and Japan's first openly lesbian politician.
"If it were clear that discrimination no longer existed, that would be one thing. But people are afraid of what they don't understand," she said in a telephone interview from Miyakonojo, where she planned to meet city officials.
The international organisation Human Rights Watch issued a letter addressed to Miyakonojo mayor Makoto Nagamine on Thursday protesting the revision and urging the city to reconsider.
"Language affirming equality on the basis of sexual orientation has been part of that ordinance since 2003," Scott Long, director of the group's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program, said in a statement from New York.
"Its proposed removal ... would send a damaging message that your community is regressing from the promise of equality."
Contentious from the start, the law was enacted late in 2003 by a vote of 13 to 12 after prolonged debate under a previous mayor, who was voted out the following year, media reports said.
After Miyakonojo merged this year with several neighboring towns, officials agreed to review all previous laws and held hearings to gain input from local citizens.
No members of women's groups or gay and lesbian groups were invited to take part in the hearings, Kawasaki said.
"From the point of view of human rights, all people are included (under the law)," she said. "There's no change in this."
A city official said no penalty is specified for breaking the law.