LGBT pioneer calls for strategy to spread message

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Evan Wolfson, one of the chief architects of a movement that helped win same-sex marriage equality in the United States, told a seminar in Tokyo on Tuesday that the time is ripe for Japan to move forward to achieve freedom to marry.

 Wolfson — the founder and president of the Freedom to Marry organization, who has fought for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights for more than 30 years — saw positive signs in the results of a nationwide survey conducted in Japan last year in which 51 percent of respondents expressed support for same-sex marriage. However, he stressed the need to devise an encompassing strategy to organize different voices and build a “critical mass” of public support.   

 “The problem is the majority doesn’t know that the majority supports the freedom to marry,” Wolfson said during the seminar, which was jointly organized by the Daini Tokyo Bar Association and the Lawyers for LGBT and Allies Network, a nonprofit organization. “So now it’s time more organizations and each individual speak up and give the people the chance to talk, move and rise to fairness.”

 In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry. Since he wrote a thesis on the freedom to marry as a student at Harvard Law School in 1983, Wolfson has committed himself to a campaign to win the basic human right for sexual minorities. Along the way, he was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time magazine.

 Through twists and turns, Wolfson said he realized winning over public opinion “through conversations, persuasion, debate, media and ads to tell our stories” is crucial to win the legal battle.

 “The Constitution of the United States, like the Constitution of Japan, promises equality, promises dignity and promises freedom. But the Constitution does not fulfill itself. It’s not an automatic machine. It requires work of people and organizations to help the country live up to the promises in the Constitution,” he said.

 Wolfson, who is called “the godfather of gay marriage,” now strives to share his experience from the movement in other countries, as the freedom to marry has become a global movement in recent years. According to Wolfson, more than 20 countries have recognized same-sex marriage equality.

 The seminar also included a screening of a documentary titled “Freedom to Marry,” which shows the pathway to the victory as well as hardships endured by gay people. 

 Tsubasa Oguri, a 26-year-old lawyer who attended the seminar, said, “The scale of the movement in the United States is much bigger than that in Japan, but I want to start from what I can do.”