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HOME  > Past issues  > 2013 May 29 - June 4  > Court rejects married couples’ demand for right to separate surnames
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2013 May 29 - June 4 [CIVIL RIGHTS]

Court rejects married couples’ demand for right to separate surnames

May 30, 2013
The Tokyo District Court on May 29 dismissed a plaintiffs’ claim that a Civil Code article requiring married couples to use a single surname is unconstitutional. This was the first lawsuit against the state on this issue.

The plaintiffs are five men and women living in the prefectures of Toyama, Kyoto, and Tokyo. They started their court battle in 2011, arguing that the article violates not only the Japanese Constitution but also the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. They said they will challenge the court ruling.

Article 750 of the Civil Code states, “Husband and wife assume the surname of the husband or wife in accordance with the agreement made at the time of marriage.”

Acknowledging, “It is possible that those who take on their partner’s family name at the time of marriage suffer an inconvenience both in their social lives and careers,” the court ruling shows an understanding of the “high expectation” of the public for the introduction of a system allowing married couples to choose to use a single surname or to keep their original family names.

The court decision, however, states, “The Constitution does not guarantee married couples the right to keep their maiden names.” It went on to say, “The U.N. convention which Japan ratified does not grant the people of the state party the right to use separate surnames.”

At a press conference after the ruling, the plaintiffs explained about the disadvantages they face in their daily lives and said, “Marriage should not impose the adoption of a single surname.”
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