Japan’s lower house on Tuesday approved proposed legislation aimed at “promoting understanding” of LGBTQ issues but campaigners criticised the bill for its watered-down language.
The country’s coalition government had debated the wording for months, with conservative politicians saying an anti-discrimination clause could deepen social divisions or open up companies and individuals to malicious lawsuits.
Legislators finally settled on a clause opposing “unjust discrimination” against sexual minorities, adding the word “unjust” after extensive wrangling.
The bill now moves to the upper house, where it is widely expected to be approved and become law.
The push for the legislation this year came with renewed scrutiny of protections for sexual minorities in Japan, the only G7 country that does not recognise same-sex unions.
As G7 host, there has been pressure on Tokyo, including from representatives of its allies in the bloc, to pass legislation protecting against discrimination.
US ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, who has been vocal in calling for LGBTQ protections, praised the lower house for its “historic vote”.
“The public call for inclusion and equal rights is loud and clear, and the Lower House listened and acted,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
But the language approved by the lower house was met with disappointment by activists.
The Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation said it “betrayed” those who have “waited impatiently for a law on the LGBT community”.
The group “firmly condemned” the bill, saying it showed excess “consideration” for those who discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
Polls show the majority of Japan’s public back same-sex marriage, while a growing number of employers and municipalities including Tokyo now offer some of the same benefits to same-sex couples as married ones.
But the law remains far behind public opinion, and a slew of recent court cases on same-sex unions have produced divided rulings.
Japan’s 1947 constitution says marriage requires “the mutual consent of both sexes” but it also states that all people “are equal under the law”.