The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

It has been more than a year since the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) released its viewpoint entitled Support the Recruitment and Retention of Talent by Instituting Marriage Equality in Japan, and the momentum achieved over the past 13 months is encouraging.

The document quickly received the support of six foreign chambers of commerce in Japan, representing Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK. It has since been endorsed by the Belgian-Luxembourg and Danish chambers of commerce in Japan, the European Business Council in Japan, 45 companies—both domestic and international—and has spawned coverage in Japanese-language media that has helped fuel the push for change at the government level.

Changing Times
On September 19, the ACCJ Human Resource Management (HRM) Committee issued an updated viewpoint of the same name and hosted a media briefing session in the Boardroom of the ACCJ Tokyo Office. Speaking at the event were:

  • Yumiko Ohta, vice-chair of the HRM Committee
  • John Carlson, government affairs manager at AbbVie
  • Isamu Ando, senior partner at EY Japan
  • Tomoka Ohashi, managing officer at Panasonic Corporation
  • Yasuzo Takeno, LLAN board member and partner at Mori Hamada and Matsumoto

The updated viewpoint highlights some of the progress seen globally. For example, 28 countries now extend rights to LGBT couples, up from 25 a year ago. Austria, Ecuador, and Taiwan joined the list this year, and the number is expected to continue rising. The Guardian reported on October 21 that Northern Ireland will legalize same-sex marriage by February next year, bringing it in line with the rest of the UK.

The outlook isn’t so good in all parts of the world. Some 71 countries still have laws that make homosexuality itself illegal across the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

When Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage on May 24, it became the first nation in Asia to do so. Two weeks later, Japan’s opposition parties submitted the Equal Marriage bill in the Diet in an attempt to push Tokyo in the same direction. There is also hope that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will support efforts to improve equality for LGBT couples. The LDP has said it intends to introduce legislation, but this has not yet happened.

Still, the election in July of openly gay politician Taiga Ishikawa to the House of Councillors—the Diet’s upper chamber—gives hope that discussion of the issue will be accelerated. He joins Kanako Otsuji, who was elected the first openly gay member of the Diet in May 2013. She serves in the House of Representatives.

Ishikawa’s election reflects a growing acceptance among Japan for marriage equality. The ACCJ view­point now cites a 2018 survey of 60,000 people aged 20–59 by Dentsu Inc. that finds 78.4 percent support for same-sex marriage.

There has also been a change in the number of people in Japan who self-report as LGBT. This was 7.6 percent in the 2015 Dentsu poll, but has risen to 8.9 percent in the latest report.

Business Case

At the heart of the advocacy is the fact that, because Japan does not yet recognize same-sex marriages, the nation has a competitive disadvantage. The ACCJ viewpoint focuses on three key issues that must be addressed to change this:

  • The cost of attracting and retaining LGBT talent
  • Encouraging a more diverse and productive workplace
  • Supporting a more diverse and inclusive community

Japan is the only member of the Group of Seven that has not legalized such unions. As a result, businesses are losing talent to other nations because those who they want to hire cannot be accompanied by their same-sex spouse and cannot receive the benefits they would elsewhere. This makes Japan a less-attractive option. It is also causing some Japanese talent to leave the country.

But there is no doubt that the ACCJ’s leadership on the issue is resonating, and leaders in both government and the private sector are beginning to see the benefits—both to business and quality of life. With the world’s eyes on Japan for the Rugby World Cup 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the time for the government to make this change is now.

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.