Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Japan's Top Court Rules Married Couples Must Have Same Surname

From The Wall Street Journal:

Japan’s Supreme Court upheld a law dating to the 19th century that requires married couples to have the same surname, rejecting an argument by three women and a married couple that it violates their rights.

The case has drawn wide attention in Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has advocated the advancement of women at companies and government agencies. Wednesday’s ruling means that women who keep using their maiden names in professional situations must continue to cope with extra paperwork and other hassles because their legal names are different.

Japan is one of the few countries that requires married couples to pick either the husband’s or wife’s surname. A United Nations body that seeks to eliminate gender discrimination has repeatedly asked the country to revise its law, but efforts to do so in parliament haven’t gotten far.

“I can’t hold back my tears, I am saddened,” Kyoko Tsukamoto, one of the plaintiffs, said at a news conference following the ruling. “I won’t be able to die as Kyoko Tsukamoto.”

On its face, the law is gender-neutral because a husband could take the surname of his wife. In practice, however, about 96% of couples choose the husband’s surname, according to court papers.

The Supreme Court, upholding lower-court rulings, said the practice of requiring a single surname was well-established in Japan. “We can discern a rational basis for stipulating a single appellation for a family,” the court said.

Read more here.

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