TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's ruling party has come under fire over remarks by one of its lawmakers who said gay and lesbian couples were "unproductive" because they cannot have children.
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) politician Mio Sugita, an ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, sparked protests over an article she wrote in July questioning spending taxpayers' money on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) couples.
"Can we obtain approval of spending taxpayers' money for LGBT couples? They don't make children. In other words, they lack productivity," she wrote.
Some 5,000 people protested outside the LDP headquarters in Tokyo last week over her remarks and similar demonstrations are planned in Osaka and other cities over the weekend, organisers said.
Mr Abe attempted to calm the furore, saying Ms Sugita's remarks contradicted the party's policy towards sexual minorities.
"It is natural to aim at a society where human rights and diversity should be respected," he said on Thursday (Aug 2).
The LDP also separately warned her to pay more attention to her remarks, saying in a statement: "Lawmaker Sugita's article ... includes phrases reflecting her lack of understanding of (LGBT) issues and consideration for the feelings of people involved."
But the party stopped short of reprimanding her despite growing calls for her resignation.
Ms Sugita - a mother of one - reportedly said she would take the party's instruction "seriously" but neither apologised nor withdrew her remarks.
Analysts say Mr Abe is nervous about potential damage to his popularity ahead of the party's leadership election in September when he aims to secure his premiership.
"I don't think it's going to be a decisive issue in the election campaign but at least Mr Abe appears concerned about a possible backfire," emeritus professor Tetsuro Kato at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo told AFP.
Opposition parties lashed out at the LDP for its "lenient" stance towards Ms Sugita, demanding her immediate resignation.
"If she does not apologise or withdraw the remarks, she should resign as a lawmaker," Mr Akira Koike of the Japan Communist Party told reporters.
A group of local legislators also urged her to apologise to the LGBT community and retract the article.
Mr Taiga Ishikawa, the first openly gay politician to win a local election in Japan, tweeted: "There is no self-cleaning function in the LDP. The LDP is not qualified to speak about promoting understanding of LGBT."
While Japan is largely tolerant of homosexuality there is no specific legal protection for gay people.