NAHA, Okinawa Pref. – Landowners’ descendents who only allow men to receive government-paid rent for land requisitioned by the U.S. military are not violating the Constitution, a high court ruled Tuesday, overturning a lower court decision siding with female relatives suing over discrimination.
The Fukuoka High Court’s Naha branch overturned the Naha District Court’s November 2003 ruling that recognized the claims of 26 female plaintiffs from the town of Kin, who said the descendants’ group’s policy is discriminatory and violates the Constitution. The district court awarded the female relatives 78 million yen.
The women had demanded 80 million yen in back payments covering 10 years.
The descendants’ group appealed to the high court, saying the rule was based on a local traditional practice.
The district court had ruled that “the policy of the group which limits the payments to male descendants is unreasonable discrimination based only on the descendants’ sex and is invalid as it violates the Constitution as well as the Civil Code.”
But in overturning this ruling, presiding Judge Masahiko Kubota of the high court said, “The court cannot recognize that the traditional custom in the area, which distinguishes between the treatment of male and female descendants concerning membership, is offensive to public order and morals.”
After the ruling, Michiko Nakama, who represents the plaintiffs, said she was extremely shocked by the court’s conclusion.
“The rental fees are paid (by the state) equally to men and women in other areas, and so I cannot understand this result,” she said.
According to the court, the group consists of descendants with rights to forest land the government sold to residents of Kin in 1906 and was requisitioned by the U.S. military after World War II. The land is now part of the U.S. military’s Camp Hansen.
The descendants’ group has managed the rental fees paid by the central government, distributing the money as compensation to full members. But it has an internal rule that only male descendants of the original landowners can become full members.
Wives of the male members can receive money after their husbands die but their daughters are not allowed to become full members.
The plaintiffs are also descendants of the landowners but were prevented from becoming full members due to the rule, they said, adding there is no rational reason for limiting full membership to men and that they are being discriminated against.
The group had paid about 350 million yen in compensation money to its members last year out of 540 million yen it received from the government.
Article 14 of the Constitution states that all people are created equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination based on gender.