On April 1, 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to realize same-sex marriage, a milestone in moving toward a society in which everyone has equal rights and can live with peace of mind.
Peter van der Vliet, who spent many years in his home country, the Netherlands, is currently engaged in diplomacy in Tokyo as the ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Japan. What does he think about the environment for LGBTI people and the current state of same-sex marriage in Japan?
We also asked what kind of efforts Japan should make in order to become a society where everyone can live with equal rights under the law.
Towards a society where everyone can live with equal rights. Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands supports the LGBTI community in Japan
–Please tell us about the activities of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to promote equal rights for LGBTI in Japan.
Throughout the year, we are promoting equal rights for the LGBTI community in cooperation with local partner organizations in each region through our own booth at the Tokyo Rainbow Pride and we have also sent messages of support to the Rainbow Prides in Sapporo and Kyushu.
Specifically, we refer to the history of the realization of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands, and pay our respect to our local LGBTI partner organizations’ activities and goals. We hope that communicating these points leads to more confidence in each of our partner organizations.
In addition, we participate in the consortium of “Pride House Tokyo Legacy” , the first permanent LGBTI center in Japan, to raise societal awareness towards diversity, sexual minorities, and the LGBTI community, and to create a society where all people can live equally. We support their mission.
Most recently, for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics , we co-organized a webinar on transgender athletes and a Dutch transgender athlete gave a presentation on about the guidance on gender and sex-diverse people by our National Olympic Committee and Sports Federations.
In addition to this, we are working on various activities to promote equal rights, such as organizing an online program for LGBTI organizations in Japan, where we invited presenters from the Netherlands to discuss topics such as education, youth and law.
As public opinion and local governments begin to accept LGBTI people, government should take a more active role in leading this movement.
–What do you think is the most important thing for Japan to move towards a society where everyone has equal rights, like the Netherlands?
I believe that national support is very important. The Sapporo District Court ruled in the so-called “Freedom of Marriage for All” lawsuit that it is unconstitutional not to recognize same-sex marriages, and more than 100 local governments across Japan have introduced same-sex partnership systems. The government’s support is essential to take the next step.
The legalization of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands, for example, did not involve the enactment or enforcement of a special new law, but rather an amendment that broadened the interpretation of the existing law to cover more people.
It is the duty of lawmakers to create a society where everyone can live comfortably by drafting and revising laws. However, conservatives end the discussions surrounding same-sex marriage with arguments such as “Because it is against the law”, or “The law does not allow it”. I have big doubts about this kind of attitude. Is now not the time to create a more open society, where more people have equal rights?
–Finally, 20 years have passed since the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands. What is the current situation surrounding LGBTI?
Twenty years ago, in 2001, the Netherlands passed an amendment to the law that made same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage have exactly the same conditions and legal consequences.
Of course, not all legislators were in favor of the amendment, and some parties were against it due to religious or other reasons, but it was the result of the passionate efforts of legislators who regarded the legalization of same-sex marriage as a milestone.
We have been leading the way as the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, but honestly, we still hear about discrimination and violent incidents, and there are still many social concerns.
Even after 20 years, we have not reached the final destination that we have imagined, but since the opposition to LGBTI is decreasing every year, I believe that we need to continue to focus and grow as a country.
◆ Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Consulate General in Japan
Ambassador Peter van der Vliet
Interview & photo / Takashi Haga
Article production / newTOKYO