LGBT activists hope for change as Japan votes

In Japan, LGBTQ rights activists see a glimmer of hope their country may finally allow same-sex marriage if candidate Taro Kono becomes the next prime minister.

The leadership of Japan's ruling party cast their votes on Wednesday and Kono is tipped as the leading contender.

He has openly supported same-sex marriage although among his fellow conservatives, it's long been a taboo topic.

Within Asia, same-sex marriage is only legal in Taiwan.

Activists like Kazuhiro Terada - say the fact that Japan is even discussing it in the leadership race points to wider acceptance among lawmakers and the public.

"At least, a person who clearly supports same-sex marriage becoming prime minister will bring hope to people, especially for gay and lesbian couples. I think it will be much easier for LGBT people to be more open and speak up."

There has been signs of broader acceptance in Japan. In 2015, Tokyo's downtown Shibuya ward began granting certificates that recognize same-sex partners.

Some 100 local government followed suit.

Lawyer Makiko Terahara says despite public support political change in Japan may be a longer road:

"So not everything (that Mr. Kono said) was perfect, but I think it's big progress that the Liberal Democratic Party is in a situation where it realizes it (same-sex marriage) is an issue (to be discussed) and can express opinions.

Kono has also voiced other progressive stances including separate surnames for married couples and he broke with conservatives last year to propose female heirs be allowed to take the imperial throne.

However, experts told Reuters they saw Kono's statement for same-sex marriage as a strategic move to capture support among progressive party members.

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