Japan’s Supreme Court has upheld a law from 1898 that requires married couples to have the same last name—a piece of legislation that critics said was discriminatory. At the same time, the court struck down another law, also from the Meiji Era, that barred women from remarrying within six months of a divorce.
Same Last Name
The case was brought by three separate women, and a couple in a civil partnership. They argued the law infringed on personal dignity and the freedom to marry.
The law itself requires Japanese couples to choose a single last name, but does not specify to whom that name should belong. Still, The Japan Times points out that in the past 40 years, 96 percent of Japanese couples have opted for the husband’s name.
The court upheld the law in a 10-5 decision. Presiding Justice Itsuro Terada said the practice is “deeply rooted in our society” and “enables people to identify themselves as part of a family in the eyes of others.” Terada noted that nothing prevents a woman from using her maiden name on a daily basis, but he acknowledged giving it up does disadvantage women in certain ways, including professionally.
The court’s decision upheld the ruling of two lower courts. Public opinion in Japan is split on the issue. Opponents of the law viewed it as an infringement of the fundamental rights of women. Conservatives view it as, in the words of The Japan Times, “a central pillar of the family unit.”