JCP Vice Chair Hiroi criticizes top court ruling disapproving dual-surname system

December 17, 2015
Japanese Communist Party Vice Chair Hiroi Nobuko on December 16 published a comment on the Supreme Court ruling regarding the issues of separate surnames for married couples and of the waiting period imposed only on women before remarriage. The full text of her comment is as follows:

The Grand Bench of the Supreme Court judged that a Civil Code provision forcing married couples to use the same family name is constitutional. As for the 6-month period of ban on remarriage of women, the court ruled that to prohibit women from getting remarried after 100 days of divorce is unconstitutional. The latter decision is a step forward, but the prohibition period should be abolished as it discriminates against women. The ruling in favor of the imposition of a single surname on married couples is extremely unfair. I strongly protest against this decision.

Five judges of the 15-member Grand Bench deemed the legal provision forcing spouses to use the same surname as unconstitutional. By majority opinion, however, the grand chamber upheld this provision. They said that the existing system allows prospective marriage couples to discuss which last name the two will adopt, the man’s or the woman’s. Therefore, they said that no inequality exists and that it is legitimate to oblige a married couple to have one single family name. As a result, they concluded, the same-surname system does not violate any of the following items of the Constitution: Article 13 (respect for individuals), Article 14 (equality under the law), and Article 24 (equality of the sexes). Such a decision is tantamount to endorsing the specific family value which believes that a separate-surname system will lead to abandoning the status quo in which both husband and wife use the same family name and will also destroy the sense of family unity.

Japan is the only country in the world which requires upon marriage the common-surname system. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has been recommending that such a discriminatory clause be removed from the law. I must say that Japan’s judicial competence is now called into question with the top court ruling.

In 1996, the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice proposed that legislation toward a selective separate surname system be considered. However, successive governments have been since ignoring both this proposal and the UN recommendation. Women’s social advancement has now made great progress. The actual conditions of marriage and family as well as public opinion in this regard have also changed dramatically. The Supreme Court, despite its “constitutional” decision, is encouraging lawmakers to discuss the surname issue in the Diet.

The government should take seriously the demands of women and concerned citizens who have been calling for an amendment to the Civil Code. I’d like to demand that the government start taking steps to revise the relevant law in line with the Constitution and international law and to fulfill its responsibility to pass the amendment.

The Japanese Communist Party will make every possible effort to work to realize Civil Code revision from the standpoint of constitutional principles: respect for individuals, equality under the law, and individual dignity and gender-based equality.

The Central Committee of the Japanese Communist Party
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