Japan PM Kishida fires aide over same-sex couple outburst

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida puts his protective mask into his pocket as he prepares to deliver his policy speech during the first day of an ordinary session at the lower house of parliament in Tokyo, Japan January 23, 2023. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

(Refiles to fix typo in par 6)

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday fired an aide who said he wouldn't want to live next to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender couples and warned that people would flee Japan if same-sex marriage was permitted.

In remarks reported by local media, Masayoshi Arai, an economy and trade official who joined Kishida's staff as a secretary in October, added he did not even want to look at same-sex couples.

"His comments are outrageous and completely incompatible with the administration's policies," Kishida said in remarks aired by public broadcaster NHK.

Speaking to reporters later in the day, the Japanese leader said he had dismissed Arai, who had earlier apologized for "misleading" comments made on Friday.

Arai's comments had come after Kishida had said in parliament that same-sex marriage needed careful consideration because of its potential impact on the family structure.

The incident is an embarrassment for Kishida as he prepares to host other leaders from Group of Seven nations in May. Unlike Japan, which has been ruled by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for most of the past seven decades, the rest of the G7 allow marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples.

According to recent opinion polls, Kishida's public support has halved to around 30% since last year following a series of scandal-tainted resignations by senior officials.

Among those who stepped down was Mio Sugita, an internal affairs and communications vice minister, who quit in December over controversial comments about LGBT people, and about Japan's indigenous Ainu community.

In a survey published by NHK in July 2021, two months before Kishida became prime minister, 57% of 1,508 respondents said they supported the legal recognition of same-sex unions.

Because they are not allowed to marry, same-sex couples can't inherit each other's assets and are denied parental rights to each other's children.

In November, a Tokyo court upheld a ban on same-sex marriage, but also said a lack of legal protection for same-sex families violated their human rights.

(This story has been refiled to fix a typo in paragraph 6)

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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