• Kyodo


The largest opposition party is seeking to push forward a legal revision to enable married couples to have separate surnames by urging some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to join hands with it.

The development comes as a deep divide surfaced within the LDP led by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as to whether to introduce such an alternative to a single surname per couple.

Yukio Edano, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, plans to call for adopting a revision to the Civil Code, which opposition forces submitted in 2018 to introduce separate surnames, in the regular parliamentary session starting later this month.

"Let's make it clear who in the LDP is opposed to it and who is not in the plenary session," Edano said in a video post on Twitter dated Dec. 18, telling LDP members supportive of separate surnames, "We can make this pass the Diet."

Under current laws, a couple must choose between either of their surnames upon marriage. While the rule is applicable to either, as it is women who change their surnames in more than 90% of the cases, it has been criticized as discriminatory.

Suga was supportive of the change long before becoming prime minister, and he even suggested in a Diet session in November that he remains committed to introducing the option.

But in an interview broadcasted live online the following month, Suga called for "taking things slowly" in light of a rift within his party that surfaced in compiling the government's basic gender equality promotion policy for the next five years.

"It became quite a debate within the party," he admitted in the program, adding he hopes people don't get "too emotional" over the topic.

In late December, the government approved the policy, which, however, failed to include a commitment to allowing married couples to use different surnames.

Its initial draft acknowledged some people are suffering by being unable to keep their surnames and called for a parliamentary debate.

But after going through revisions at LDP meetings, the final policy only vaguely stated, "Further considerations will be made on the surnames of married couples."

"In the Liberal Democratic Party, even when the prime minister and the minister in charge of the issue make supportive statements, the rearguard overturns them," Edano said following the revisions.

Conservative members of the LDP claim having separate surnames damages the unity of a family, while more liberal members say introducing the option will help people, mostly women, who have been inconvenienced by having to alter their surnames.

Speaking at a news conference in early December, Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said, "I would be against it if it were a system that requires people to have separate surnames, but if it is just about allowing the option, I have no reason to oppose it."

The CDP is adding pressure on Suga to exercise leadership over the matter, particularly as the LDP's junior coalition ally Komeito has been pro-change.

"The LDP should squarely face social change and make a decision suited to the times," Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said in early December.

A recent survey conducted by a civic group targeting people under 60 has shown more than 70% of respondents were supportive of having the option of separate surnames.

In addition, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the same surname rule as it announced it will hold a trial on the issue with all 15 judges.

The move comes amid a lack of progress in a parliamentary debate on the issue despite the top court calling for it when it ruled in 2015 that the same surname clause is constitutional in a 10-5 vote.

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