JAPAN: Marital surname law in Japan faces legal and constitutional challenge

Should women in Japan be forced to change their names just because they get married? Conversely should a woman be forced to divorce her husband just to have the right to use her maiden (birth) name?

The Guardian ran this story, in part, yesterday:

Current urname law could encourage divorces in Japan

Five people in Japan are poised to launch an unprecedented lawsuit against the government, claiming that a civil law forcing them to choose a single surname after marriage violates their constitutional rights.
If they succeed, married men and women will for the first time be able to retain their own surnames, dealing a blow to one of the few remaining legal obstacles to gender equality.
In the vast majority of cases, women are required to relinquish their maiden name after marriage, although a small number of men take their wife’s name.
Critics say the time has come to modernise the law in Japan, the only G8 nation with laws governing marital surnames.
The plaintiffs argue that the civil code’s requirement that a single surname be chosen contradicts articles of the constitution guaranteeing individual liberty and equal rights to husband and wife. The five are also seeking ¬•1m (¬£7,727) each in compensation from the government.

It will be interesting to see how these cases pan out, whether the courts rule that these plaintiffs have standing and that they, in fact, were harmed by these arbitrary, gender-discriminatory laws. Sounds like a human rights violation, in a manner of speaking. It appears to “discriminate” against women who are usually the ones forced to change their names, as was one of the plaintiffs in the case, Kyoko Tsukamoto. She complains that she has been married and therefore “injured” by this law for upwards of fifty years due to the fact that she was forced to take her husband’s surname, under color of law, even though she wanted to, and would have chosen to use her maiden name, had she been allowed too. She even took desperate steps to use her maiden name by divorcing her husband at one point; but they re-married after she got pregnant. She has said in interviews, “I was born Kyoko Tsukamoto and I want to die Kyoko Tsukamoto….” One can only respect her for her strong convictions that she has a right of self-determination and should not be forced to change her name just because she is married, or to even divorce her spouse just so she can use a name of her choice – aka her given name at birth.
Read more at the UK Guardian here: www.guardian.co.uk
Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/styeb/5076232965/sizes/m/in/photostream/