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Plaintiffs disappointed in Supreme Court ruling on surnames following marriage

Plaintiffs Emi Kayama, second from right, and Kaori Oguni, second from left, are seen at the House of Councillors members' office building in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Dec. 16, 2015, during a gathering after the Supreme Court's ruling on the constitutionality of requiring married couples to share the same last name. (Mainichi)

Plaintiffs who fought to have the requirement that married couples share the same last name declared unconstitutional expressed their disappointment after a Dec. 16 Supreme Court ruling that reached the opposite conclusion.

    Plaintiff Emi Kayama, 44, a freelance writer who was present for the Supreme Court's ruling, gripped her pen -- her hand shaking -- and prepared to write. As the ruling that rejected her side's argument was read aloud, she could barely take in the words.

    When she married in 2000, her husband said they could choose either of their last names to go by. "Since I could use the last name 'Kayama' as my penname, I decided I would be fine with changing my name," she explained.

    Kayama updated her various registrations to her new name, such as her passport, driver's license and bank account. As she began a life of switching back and forth between her married name and her maiden name, however, she realized how ignorant she had been. Sometimes wondering who she was on any given day, she felt as if she had a personality disorder.

    Someone that Kayama knew said to her, "You don't have to work anymore," and she was hurt by the suggestion that she should stop working because she had gotten married. Wondering what the real meaning of marriage was, she and her husband held thorough discussions about their marriage. She says that her husband told her, "This law (requiring married couples to have the same last name) is wrong. It will be changed."

    They arrived at a decision: they would get a divorce on paper only, and in 2004, that is what they did. No longer how long they waited, however, the law did not change. In 2011, Kayama and another woman who wanted to use a different last name from her husband sued the national government. Kayama's husband also joined the plaintiffs.

    The ruling that came on Dec. 16, however, was not what she had hoped. She worries that there will be more divorces "on paper" like hers. She also says, however, that she gained a small amount of hope for the future from the fact that five of the top court's Grand Bench members went against the ruling by saying that the restriction is unconstitutional.

    "Sometimes we fail on the first try. But I'm sure it was not in vain, because we called attention to this issue. Regardless of how the system works, I will continue to be involved with this issue by living how I want to live," she commented.

    Another plaintiff, Kaori Oguni, 41, who is an administrative scrivener, told the court in November that she was seeking help from the judicial system because she couldn't trust politicians to act. She says that after hearing the verdict, she has lost trust in the judicial system as well.

    Wanting to feel like she was really married, Oguni decided after much consideration to marry legally. She explains, however, that "the feeling of loss from losing my last name was greater" than the feeling of fulfillment from marriage. Although she can use her maiden name in her regular jobs, a notary public officer warned her while she was drawing up a will at a notary office that not using her legal name could affect the will's legal authority -- and she was asked to use her legal name.

    One of the Supreme Court justices said, "If more people go by their maiden name for everyday use, they should suffer less." Oguni wonders how much that judge understands the reality of what is happening, and feels that people getting married in the future will continue to face hardships due to the ruling. She says that she feels betrayed by the court.

    The Supreme Court also ruled on Dec. 16 that a system forbidding only women from remarrying for six months after a divorce was unconstitutional. The rulings were the first Supreme Court decisions on the constitutionality of the Civil Code's regulations on family, which have been in effect for over 100 years.

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