Five people are set to file a suit with the Tokyo District Court claiming that a Civil Code article forcing married couples to choose a single surname contravenes the Constitution, lawyers representing the prospective plaintiffs said Thursday.
It will be the first lawsuit to contest the constitutionality of Article 750 of the Civil Code, according to the lawyers.
The lawsuit is expected to reignite a long-standing debate on the possible introduction of a system that would allow men and women to retain their respective surnames after marriage.
The five contend that the article in question violates Articles 13 and 24 of the Constitution, which stipulate respect for the individual and equality between husband and wife, and are seeking ¥1 million each in compensation from the central government.
The plaintiffs claim that while Article 24 stipulates that a husband and wife hold equal rights, the Civil Code article causes disadvantage to one of them by forcing couples to choose a single surname.
One of the five, Kyoko Tsukamoto, a 75-year-old former high school teacher from Toyama, got married in 1960 and changed her surname in her official family registry, while continuing to use her maiden name in daily life.
She said the fact that she could not use Tsukamoto as her official surname caused “a strong loss of self” and mental distress.
Another plaintiff, freelance writer Emi Kayama, 39, who also continued to use her maiden name after getting married in 2000, said she felt stressed by the complex identification procedures for various formalities and ended up filing for divorce while continuing to live with her partner.
The Justice Ministry’s Legislative Council worked out an outline for an amendment to the Civil Code article in 1996, suggesting married women should be given the choice of retaining their maiden names.
But some lawmakers of the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party voiced opposition, arguing that use of separate surnames by couples would undermine family cohesion, and the proposed revision was shelved.
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